'Miracle on the Hudson': Survivors reflect 10 years later

In this Jan. 15, 2009, file photo, passengers stand on the wing of a US Airways jetliner waiting to be rescued by ferry boats that rushed to the plane in the Hudson River in New York.
Caption
In this Jan. 15, 2009, file photo, passengers stand on the wing of a US Airways jetliner waiting to be rescued by ferry boats that rushed to the plane in the Hudson River in New York.

Credit: Bebeto Matthews

Credit: Bebeto Matthews

The "Miracle on the Hudson" is one of the most amazing stories in aviation history.

A flight to Charlotte, North Carolina, full of people, landed safely on the Hudson River after a bird strike.

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Everyone survived, and many who did say it changed their lives.

Passenger Beth McHugh said she can remember exactly where she was sitting, despite the flight taking place 10 years ago.

Jim Whitaker said he was not supposed to be on the plane. He had gotten the last standby seat on what was supposed to be a routine flight back to Charlotte.

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"And we're taking off, and I'm trying to read the newspaper, and all of sudden, boom," Whitaker said.

McHugh said as soon as she heard the boom, she and everyone else started to try to figure out what happened.

"What we didn't know until a few seconds later was that both of the engines had basically exploded at the same time," McHugh said.

"That's a bad feeling, when all of that thrust suddenly goes away and it's just silent as you're floating through the air," Whitaker said.

McHugh said she could hear people murmuring, people praying and people pulling out their cellphones to call home.

She said despite the situation, she felt a certain calm and acceptance.

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"Once I realized that we're all probably going to die here, and at that point I did feel a certain calm come over me, an acceptance of what's going to happen will happen," McHugh said.

But what happened was the "miracle."

Flight 1549 hit the Hudson River at 150 mph, slowed, tilted to the left and finally stopped.

"When I stood up, I looked down at my seat to make sure that I actually was alive," McHugh said.

McHugh and Whitaker were alive after the plane crashed, but they said they realized the danger was not over yet.

The back end of the plane where McHugh and Whitaker were sitting hit the Hudson River first and ripped open. Icy water was rushing in.

"I thought, 'Oh, my gosh. We survived a plane crash and we're going to drown now. We're back here and we're going to drown before we get out,'" McHugh said. "I just remember struggling through the water first and then struggling to get past people and carrying the seat cushion in front of me."

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Whitaker said there was a pause to get the evacuation started, but once it started, it was a hurried process to get everyone off the plane quickly.

It was the second miracle that all 155 on board made it out safely with only minor injuries.

But they will all tell you that every day they have spent over the last 10 years with family and friends has been its own miracle – the miracle of life.

"A sense of hope. That good things can happen. That good things do happen. Miracles happen," McHugh said.

WSOC-TV's Mark Becker asked Whitaker if he ever gets tired of telling the story.

"No! It's a miracle. It's a miracle. It's a story that should be retold over and over again as long as people are willing to listen," Whitaker said.

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