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Miracle on the Hudson – What the Passengers Thought

Five years ago, on January 15, 2009, Flight 1549 took off for Charlotte, North Carolina and, 3 minutes later,  made an emergency landing in the Hudson River, with no serious harm to anyone but the geese who caused the problem. (They were liquefied into something called, in aviation jargon, snarge.)
 sully sullenberger, miracle on the hudson, survivors, plane crash

Photo: Wikimedia By Greg L
  Miracle on the Hudson, the subsequent book about this incident by William Prochnau and Laura Parker, focuses not on the uber-competence of Pilot “Sully” Sullenberger,  but on the reactions of the plane’s passengers after they realized both engines had failed.  Some screamed. Some cursed.  (A direct quote:  “Oh, crap, we‘re crashing!”)  A few were furious.  Others remained calm.
My favorites were the folks who remained in denial. They flat-out refused to believe a disaster was happening. . “Problem? There isn’t a problem,” they insisted, right up to the moment the plane plunked into the  drink.
Experts who have studied how folks behave in crisis situations  tell us that when the shit hits the fan, some people are survival-oriented, some totally flip out, and a third group sits frozen in shock and does absolutely nothing. (When the oxygen masks drop, these folks stare at them blankly until they pass out.)
So how do you know which group you’re in?
You don’t. Until your plane loses both engines
The passengers on Flight 1549 prayed to a smorgasbord of Supreme Beings. There were Jews and Muslims and a variety of Christians on the plane. Also one Buddhist (who later reported that she felt kind of “left out.”)  Some folks reached for their cells and tried to phone their loved ones, although one passenger aborted her call when her seatmate said, “Don’t phone your husband now —  you don’t want to bother him.”
Come again? If  when you’re  plunging toward almost certain death isn’t the right time to trouble your hubby, I don’t know when is.  I applaud the woman who phoned her man the instant she realized the plane was in trouble and kept him on the line through the whole ordeal.
“Kudos to Verizon,“ she said later, “They were right there.“
Now there’s an ad — “We’ve lost both engines! We’re headed toward the water! Can you hear me now?”
A variety of last thoughts went through people’s heads. Many said mental goodbyes to loved ones. Some asked God for forgiveness. Others were pierced by regret that they’d never see their daughter graduate or play catch with their son.  One woman actually fretted about the fact that she hadn’t made her bed that morning. (Easy there, Martha.) And the overly-practical among us can surely relate to the woman, who, as the plane went down, hoped her husband would realize that, because she was traveling on business, he could collect double on her insurance.
We’ve all wondered what it would be like to be in a crashing airplane. We‘re seen the movie version (too) many times. But Flight 1549 provided a rare opportunity to learn what it’s actually like.
I’m glad they all made it out alive.
(This essay first appeared on

Roz Warren

Roz Warren writes for the New York Times, the Funny Times, the Christian Science Monitor, the Jewish Forward and the Huffington Post. And she‘s been featured on the Today Show. (Twice!) Her 13th humor book, ”Our Bodies, Our Shelves: A Collection Of Library Humor," is available on Amazon.

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Wednesday 15th of January 2014

After reading this I am fairly certain that I would've unbelted myself, pullled the exit handle, shimmied out on one of the plane's wings to one of the broken engines and MacGyvered it into abeyance.

Norine of Science of Parenthood

Wednesday 15th of January 2014

I always wondered what was going through the passengers minds! I remember thinking when I heard about the crash: How would I get my toddler out? And if I was traveling alone: Could I get my laptop out? I wouldn't care about the unmade bed, but losing the laptop would suck. Thank you. Great, funny piece.

roz warren

Wednesday 15th of January 2014

My first thoughts were always of my son, too, when I was in a plane and I fretted about its safety. My son has grown up to be a very scientific and reality-based person who often assures me that an airplane aloft is one of the safest places you can be. Thanks for your comment.

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