As someone said yesterday afternoon, first there was the Miracle on 34th street and yesterday there was a miracle on the Hudson.
I want to pay tribute to a remarkable set of circumstances. If someone had written a film about what happened on the Hudson River yesterday, they’d catch hell for all the fortunate “coincidences” that led to a damn near perfect outcome.
Mom suddenly decided we needed to watch the news yesterday afternoon. There in the middle of the screen, in the middle of the water was the tail fin of a plane surrounded by boats of all sizes. WTF is a mild version of what ran through my mind. As the story unfolded that afternoon and this morning, “damn, you have got to be kidding” was the refrain.
But, think about all the things that had to come together. The size of the plane: I don’t think you could land a 747 on the Hudson River. Of course a 747 might have made it to the field at Teterboro, thank heaven we’ll probably never have to find out. The destination; the plane was going to Charlotte before heading to Seattle. The fuel tanks in the wings weren’t full helping to keep the plane from sinking. And the engine mounts are designed to shear away if necessary; leaving the wings intact. The passengers and fight attendants; yeah they were scared but they kept their heads and they helped each other. All those boats; ferries, tugs and I don’t know what all homed in on that plane like iron filings to a magnet. I saw shot today of the first boat heading towards the plane. Somehow I don’t think river ferries normally go quite that fast.
And finally the pilot. And this is the part that would have most of us going, “ah come on,” if it was fiction. He got his pilot’s license before he learned to drive, flew fighter planes, and has been a commercial pilot for nearly thirty years. The thing is he flies gliders as a hobby. He knew his ship, and I suspect he knew the Hudson well enough to know the best section of the river to try for; the one with docks and boats on both sides, and he trusted himself to bring it off.
Following a tradition that goes back to the old sailing ships, passengers and crew on planes are often referred to as “souls on board.” And like those captains of centuries past this captain brought all the souls in his care to a safe harbor.
We’ve heard the word hero tossed round a lot over the past few years. This is one time one the title is well earned.