The Following is a guest post from Ian Wells, a friend of mine and fellow alum from the University of Miami. One of the most amazing things about Ian…is that he is alive. He survived the plane crash of US Air Flight 1549 and I and TheWorldorBust are privileged to have him share his amazing story just a few days shy of the three year anniversary of the crash. Ian currently resides in NYC and works as an internet entrepreneur.
I love to fly. It’s been that way ever since I was a kid. I enjoy the whole experience; the peanuts, picking out the most useless crap out of the SkyMall, the new destination, maybe meeting someone new and especially the thrill of flying. That hasn’t changed too much as I have gotten older. I enjoy the new destinations and I’m still a sucker for the SkyMall, but beer has helped me deal with the whole “thrill” of flying because three years ago, on January 15, 2009, I experienced a whole different kind of thrill on a flight from New York’s LaGuardia airport to Charlotte. On that day, I was a passenger aboard US Airways Flight 1549, which crash-landed into NY’s Hudson River.
I was flying back to school for my final semester at the University of Miami like I had every year before. It was an extremely cold and dreary day in New York. The seat I was “awarded” was 25D, the second to last row of the plane. As we took off, the flight felt as normal as any other. The jets rumbled as the pilot put them at full thrust, I was pushed back in my seat, and as we took off, I took a sigh of relief as I saw the shimmering facades of Manhattan’s skyscrapers get smaller and smaller. As we continued to climb into the sky, I heard the sound no one ever wants to hear or experience while flying.
A tremendous thud reverberated throughout the cabin as if the plane had just hit something. The plane shook violently and quickly lost thrust in both engines. Rather than continuing to climb into the sky, the plane just sat there, dead. A sinking feeling came upon me, for the first time in all my years of flying, I felt the height of where we actually were, It seemed like I was dangling 5,000 feet above Manhattan with no where to go. The plane sat there seemingly motionless while people tried to wrap their head around the situation. You could hear a clicking sound coming from both engines as the pilots did their best to get them started again.
The natural reaction that occurred was the fear of not knowing. My heart was racing as a million thoughts rushed through my head. What the hell was going on? Why on earth is this happening to me? Why Me?
As I looked around, people began screaming that there was a fire onboard. An all too real smell of pungent gasoline and smoke began to fill the cabin. I looked around for an explanation and some sort of reassurance, but everyone had on the same pale face that showed the painful reality of our situation.. I looked behind me to the stewardess, who had quickly gotten up from her seat after the initial shock, and began opening luggage compartments to locate the fire.
This felt like the first situation in my life where I had zero control on the outcome. The pilots who I had never met were now in control of my life. My plane was falling without engine power towards one of the most densely populated cities in the entire world, and I was helpless.
As the plane seem to just float in thin air, the two passengers in my aisle and I interlocked hands and prayed. We prayed that we’d walk away from this. We prayed that our families would be ok, and we prayed for the best possible outcome in the worst possible situation.
The plane took a sharp turn over the city and edged back level. As I looked out I could see the West Side of Manhattan and the cliffs of New Jersey. It was evident that we were over the Hudson River. There was no engine thrust, no noise, just an eerie silence. You could have heard a pin drop as everyone held their collective breathe, had silent prayers and waited for the unthinkable.
The pilot came on (Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger) and said the words that no one wants to hear. “Brace for Impact.” It was all too real, the stewardess was yelling to keep our heads down, and to get into “crash position”, you know, the one in the little safety pamphlet you’ve nonchalantly perused 100 times and never thought neccessary. I sat there leaning down with my head pressed against my knees, thinking about my family and how I’d never get to see them again.
I felt a painfully unnerving feeling, I guess you could say it was the fear of death, and when it was staring me back in the face, it was a totally different beast than I had ever imagined. It’s disbelief rather than a fear.
As we rapidly descended towards the river, it got eerily dark. The clouds seemed to cover the late afternoon sky, and all of a sudden, BOOM, we hit the icy river, and I began to feel the inevitable was soon to be my fate.
Our bodies were contorted into various positions and were jerked around as the seat belts held us back, but the impact of the large aircraft hitting the fast moving river was translated into us, and it was a force I’ve never experienced. I remember my head hitting the seat in front of me. I kept waiting for the plane to break apart, for the implosion to occur. But that never happened; the first feeling as the plane came to a sudden stop wasn’t pain, but adrenaline. I remember thinking “Holy Shit I’m still alive.” I looked to my right, the two people in my aisle were alive as well. The adrenaline overtook my body, I felt invincible. I had just survived a fucking plane crash.
The frigid water began to quickly fill the back of the aircraft. As I looked to the left and right, the windows were submerged in water. The plane was creeping lower and lower into the river and the water was trapping us inside the plane. People in front of us were moving towards the back looking for an exit as we yelled to move forward. In the back of the plane, I thought we were experiencing the same problems people in the front of the plane were dealing with. I figured if these exits cannot be opened, the front ones couldn’t either. I was neck deep in water inside the aircraft without an exit. The plane was dark, wet, and terrifying.
As the light began to open up inside the aircraft you could see people filing out onto the aircrafts wings and onto life rafts at the front of plane. The anxiety eased as I pushed against the seats inside the aircraft and quickly climbed towards the front of the plane. As I entered the life raft, the pilot passed by me and went towards the back of the plane to ensure everyone had been saved and accounted for. As I sat on the life raft looking behind me at a plane half submerged in the icy Hudson River, I felt relief, calm, and disbelief.
As I think back on that day, it sure had that “thrill” of flying I always enjoyed, but more than anything, 155 people who may have been strangers boarding that flight, became family. We shared an extraordinary experience that is difficult to fully explain unless you were there.
In the past when I flew, I’d sometimes meet one or two people, on that day I met 154 people. I’ll never forget the faces of the fellow passengers and the crew. We all held the same feelings, and faced the same fears and were able to walk away together. A commercial jet crashed in the middle of a frozen river and not a single person was killed, or even severely injured. this is a true testament to the crew and passengers working together during a dire situation. Complete strangers came together in an unbelievable event and walked away a family.