Following the weekend’s scary yet ultimately uplifting news of another plane crashing into the Hudson without killing anyone, we revisited the infamous Flight 1549 crash.
Maryann Bruce, a passenger on the plane that Captain “Sully” Sullenberger successfully ditched in the river back in 2009, told us about what it’s like when the plane you’re on falls into the Hudson River.
What did it feel like when your flight was going down, and when it hit the water?
I’m kind of an interesting person to ask, because my response will be very different from everyone else’s. There were 150 passengers, so if you speak to 150 passengers, you’ll get 150 different stories. I fly so often that I realized there was a problem with the engines. I figured we hit birds and would make an emergency landing. There was an off-duty pilot sitting behind me; I looked at him and said, “Are we going to make an emergency landing at LaGuardia?” He said yes, very calmly. When he seemed to be calm, I went back to reading the newspaper. I was thinking, ‘Oh, I’m going to be late getting home, what a pain in the ass.’
About 3 minutes later, the pilot said, “Brace for impact.” At that point, I started getting a little more nervous. Then the flight attendants started saying, “Heads down, brace.” Right before we crashed, I looked out the window and saw water, but I still wasn’t too alarmed because the LaGuardia airport is surrounded by water. I was still thinking, ‘We’re gonna find the runway; we’re gonna be okay.’
We crashed with a pretty loud thud, but then we kind of slid on our belly. I liken it to those water rides, like Splash Mountain at Disneyland, were you slide down and there’s a huge splash. That’s what it felt like to me, but I was in the front where there wasn’t too much impact. Then the flight attendants started saying, “Take your lifejackets and leave everything behind.” That’s when I realized we were in the water.
So it took quite a while for you to fully realize where you were and what was happening?
It wasn’t until I got off the plane that I realized we weren’t anywhere close to LaGuardia. I’m a very experienced flier and so I’ve had emergency landings before. That didn’t panic me in and of itself. Once they said brace for impact and I could see the water, I thought, ‘Okay, maybe this is going to be worse than normal.’
When we got off the plane, I’m sitting in a raft watching it sink and the magnitude of the situation took over. I started panicking, thinking people were going to die. I was one of the first twenty or so passengers off the plane, so I got to sit on a raft. There were people stuck in the back because one of the rafts back there didn’t deploy.
I was in shock and awe, like, how are these people standing on the wings? I saw people jump in the water and I knew they couldn’t stay in there or they would freeze. We started getting them in the raft and ripping their clothes off and giving them our dry clothes.
Did you call anybody?
Yes, as soon as we got people in our raft and got clothes on them, I immediately called my husband. I told him I was in a plane crash but that I was okay. He thought I was joking; his first words were, “Ha ha, you’re shitting me.” Then I called my mom. She was 80 at the time and not very technologically astute. The phone kept ringing and ringing and I knew she was home but didn’t know how to use call waiting.
They told us to leave everything behind, but I didn’t listen because I’d been in emergency landings before and I knew I’d need my phone and my ID. I asked a few people if they needed to make phone calls on my phone. At that point, I called my husband again and he was agitated. He kept saying, “Where are you? Where are you?”
I asked the guy next to me; he said, “We’re in the Hudson River.” My husband’s like, “You can’t be in the Hudson river, that’s not near LaGuardia.” But everyone kept telling me I was in the Hudson, so that’s what I kept telling him. I didn’t get it. I finally just said, “Forget it, I’ll call you later.”
When I got on the ferry, I realized he was watching it on CNN and was asking if I was on the plane. The footage was a few minutes delayed and all he could see was the plane sinking. He thought it was going to be our last conversation. He was really trying to say, “Are you safe?”
How long did it take before you were rescued?
It was only five to ten minutes before the ferry started coming. But it was coming so fast, that we were petrified it was going to run our raft over. We just survived a plane crash and now we’re going to die under a ferry! But they finally stopped and then we had to climb up to get on board. It was really different for others though. The rescue started about ten minutes after the crash, but it lasted for hours.
Did you ever get your luggage back?
I did. That was an interesting situation. This was the feel good story of the century — usually when a plane crash happens, its an oxymoron to have the word ‘survivors’ in the same sentence. But behind the scenes, there were some problems with the bags. The airline took everyone’s belongings and the plane itself and were doing simulations about where all the weight of the luggage was, so they could find out how the plane stayed stable. The luggage was touched by lots of different people, and things got stolen in the process. Some people got their wallet back, but not their money.
In my case, I got back on a plane within 24 hours. I wanted to see my husband and kids and I didn’t want to wait. I kept telling myself the odds of two plane crashes on the same airline within a few hours were so slim. I took out a pad of paper and wrote every item I had in my suitcase, because I figured I would need to make an insurance claim. When I got to the airport for my second flight, I explained that I had a diamond ring in my suitcase that was valuable. I told them exactly where my suitcase was, that it didn’t get wet, and that I needed to get my stuff.
It took six months and there was no communication. When I finally got it, I got everything, including my jewelry. Every piece of jewelry had a ticket on it with a code number. I’m convinced it’s because I reported my stuff right away. I got all my stuff back but not everybody did.
Do you ever get nervous about flying?
I’ll admit, I’m not the best flier. I’ve always gotten nervous during turbulence, even before this experience. But I’m a very practical person, and planes are simply the best way to get around. Not flying isn’t an option.
What I got the most anxious was a month or two after our crash, when there was a deadly crash somewhere near Buffalo. Everyone on that plane died. That night, I couldn’t sleep; I kept having nightmares. The next day, my husband asked me, “What’s wrong? You look terrible.” I told him, “Everyone died!” and his response was, “That’s the definition of a plane crash.” It wasn’t until then that it hit me how lucky we were. To me, a plane crash meant survival.