The “Miracles on the Hudson” U.S. Airways Crash and How to Make Your Own Miracles

On January 15, 2009, a miracle happened. A U.S. Airways plane crash-landed upright and intact in the Hudson River, minutes after taking off from La Guardia airport in New York City, en route to Charlotte, North Carolina, and all 155 passengers survived.

The temperature outside was 20 degrees, and the near-freezing river water rose quickly in the plane. First a sting of cold at the ankles, then a ring of pain around the calves, and you knew you had to get out into air that bit at your face, water waist-deep, so cold that you could die of hypothermia, but you were alive, all limbs and fingers and toes accounted for.

Many miracles, yes. The Captain, C.B. Sullenberger, was a veteran pilot who taught safety classes. The flight attendants brought calm and efficiency. The Hudson River was not yet frozen—a condition that would have increased the odds of the plane splitting into pieces. Commercial ferry boats altered their course and rushed to the rescue. Police, fire and Coast Guard boats dashed to help. Captain Sullenberger was last off the plane. He wouldn’t leave until he checked every bathroom and overhead luggage bins in case people crammed in them as refuge from the rising waters. He walked and checked the plane twice. And passengers linked arms and prayed.

I’m sure, as they say, lives flashed in front of passenger’s eyes. Life was reviewed, new promises and prayers made, mental letters scribbled and lists of phone calls to be made to loved ones, new and old. Afterward, about fifteen people were treated at nearby hospitals. A camera phone clicked, and the photo of passengers standing on the plane’s wings was sent to You Tube, out to the world. We applauded in our hearts, awestruck.

We look at the pictures, listen to the news reports and then are taken to the next story and scene. But not so fast. We can learn from this event. Of course, not all disasters are alike, no two people experience the same emotions or derive the same meaning. Most tragedies and near-misses are less sensational and more private. Perhaps an injured soldier learns to walk, a woman leaves an abusing husband, a child triumphs over poverty.

So what are the lessons from this “Miracle on the Hudson” and how can we incorporate them into our everyday life? Try this short list:

  1. Be prepared. Develop a Plan B, C or Z. Flight attendants and pilots are drilled in emergency procedures. Develop your own “What-if” plans for the key issues in your life. Do you need or have life insurance? A list of doctors, emergency phone numbers, credit cards? Cash in the house? Do you have enough water and canned goods in case the power goes out? Note the exit rows on planes and boats. Make sure there is gas in the car.
  2. Learn to stay calm. Practice breathing, focusing, visualizing. Stay alert. Repeat calming phrases in your mind. Pray, if it helps.
  3. Be optimistic. Optimism creates positive and effective action. What if the pilot and flight crew had assumed that hope was gone?
  4. Help. Don’t assume that others will take responsibility. What if the ferry boats had assumed that the rescue boats were coming. Every gesture—big and small—counts.
  5. Support and join with others. Don’t isolate yourself during difficult times. The passengers on the U.S. Airways linked arms, thereby strengthening their resolve and lessening their sense of being alone.

Add your own miracles.

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Author's Bio: 

LeslieBeth Wish is a Psychologist, Clinical Social Worker and author who is nationally recognized for her contributions to women, love, relationships, family, career, workplace, and organizations.

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