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Miracle on the Hudson

John on January 16, 2009 at 9:47 am

This is the image that grabbed me:

It almost looks as if they’re walking right out the exits onto the water. And while that particular miracle didn’t happen, several others did yesterday…

First, that the pilot made this landing with two flaming engines. He communicated with the tower, decided he couldn’t make the landing site they suggested and turned toward the river. And he still found time to warn the passengers to brace for a hard landing. I saw someone on TV last night who witnessed it. She said that, had you not know it was a river, you’d have thought the plane was making an ordinary runway landing — nose up, gear down, gliding in. I’m thinking not too many people in any profession have the kind of intestinal fortitude it would take to perform under that kind of pressure. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger saved 155 lives yesterday. One policeman at the scene summed it up “You got a bird, a plane and Superman. He doesn’t have to say anything.” The first thing this hero did was call is wife.

Second, all the passengers remained calm. Not just calm. Civilized. Informed they were going down, people put their heads in their laps and prayed. After the impact, as the plane began to sink, women and children were allowed to exit first. One of the last passengers out was in freezing water up to his neck waiting his turn. But he waited. Then he stripped down to his underwear so he could swim freely, climbed across the top of the seats and swam out of the exit to a waiting boat. Once in the boat, other passengers stripped off articles of clothing to give him.

Third, the rescue response appears to have been phenomenal. Within 10 minutes an entire ferry full of firemen was on scene. But even before that, multiple boats swarmed to the wreck and picked up the passengers. The most serious injury was to one of the stewardesses who broke both legs.

I can’t help thinking that after the horror New York experienced on 9/11, in which plane crashes left the whole world in shock, yesterday’s events represent some sort of bookend. Not as many lives at stake of course, but still. This could have been another profound shock. It should have been. But instead of tragedy this time we got comedy, comedy in the original literary sense in which after a journey through hell everyone makes it out alive. Yesterday, New York had an anti-disaster. It was a miracle.

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