Saturday, January 14, 2012

Remembering the 'Miracle on Hudson'

Steven Day / AP file

In this Jan. 15, 2009, file photo, airline passengers wait to be rescued on the wings of a US Airways Airbus 320 jetliner that safely ditched in the frigid waters of the Hudson River in New York after a flock of birds knocked out both its engines.

By Harriet Baskas, contributor

This Sunday marks the third anniversary of the emergency landing of US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River near Manhattan. Several survivors will visit the airplane now housed at an aviation museum in Charlotte, N.C.,?some for the first time since the crash landing, and share memories of their experience.

On Jan.15, 2009, the Airbus A320 was beginning a trip from New York?s LaGuardia Airport to Charlotte/Douglas International Airport when it was disabled after striking a flock of Canada geese. Unable to return safely to an airfield, the crew ditched the airplane in the river and the incident became known as the ?Miracle on the Hudson? after the safe evacuation of all 155 occupants from the still intact, but sinking, airplane.?

Courtesy Beth McHugh

Beth McHugh, pictured with Capt. Chesley B. 'Sully' Sullenberger, right, and co-pilot Jeff Skiles.

?I was one of those people who really thought we were going to die,? Beth McHugh, one of the passengers aboard Flight 1549, told from her home in Lake Wylie, N.C. ?I was in the back of the plane where the water was coming in quickly and didn?t realize that the front of the plane wasn?t underwater yet. When I got to the front of the plane, I thought I wouldn?t drown but maybe die of hypothermia instead.?

All aboard the flight survived, and the pilot, Capt. Chesley B. ?Sully? Sullenberger was hailed as a hero.

The plane was recovered from the river, and since last June, the fuselage has been on display in a hangar at the Carolinas Aviation Museum, which is adjacent to the Charlotte/Douglas International Airport. Attendance at the museum has tripled, to about 3,800 visitors a month.

The airplane?s wings, where many passengers waited to be rescued, are now also at the museum.?Executive director Wally Coppinger said the museum is ?displaying and preserving the airplane, not trying to re-build it? so, for now, has placed the left wing on the hangar floor next to the plane. ?The wing will be connected to the fuselage later.? The right wing, currently on a ramp outside the hangar doors in an area with limited viewing, will also be put in place next to the fuselage, Coppinger said, but not in time for this weekend?s anniversary.

On Saturday, McHugh will join a panel of passengers from US Airways Flight 1549 at the museum between 1 and 4 p.m. to share their memories of the experience and to answer questions from museum visitors. ?People don?t always get to talk to survivors of a plane crash,? said McHugh. ?They have a need to ask questions. They wonder how they?d behave in a similar situation.?

Courtesy Carolinas Aviation Museum

The partially reassembled Miracle on the Hudson plane is on display at the Carolinas Aviation Museum in Charlotte, N.C.

The museum is expecting a large crowd, Coppinger said: ?There were 155 people on that flight, and there are 155 different stories.?

On Sunday, the museum will be closed for a private event as part of a reunion for passengers. ?It will be the first time a lot of them will be seeing the aircraft,? Coppinger said. ?We?re going to allow them to go into the plane and sit in ?their? seats if they want to.?

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