Guest Column: Flight 1549 an Eerie Miracle

Two weeks ago, we blogged about what newspapers were calling a "controlled landing" and TV networks were calling a "plane crash" in the Hudson River. Today, Maria Alvarez, a 2002 Dart Center Ochberg Fellow who covered the 9/11 attacks and aftermath for the New York Post, writes about her experience reporting on Flight 1549, and how it brought back memories of a very different day when a plane appeared in New York City's skies.

When rubber-necking tourists and curiosity seekers came to Battery Park City—several blocks from Ground Zero—to view the Airbus A320 jetliner bobbing in the icy waters of the Hudson River after it miraculously crash landed without a fatality, it was still too eerie to behold, especially for residents and workers who survived the 9/11 attacks, and still feel a ghostly image of the twin towers looming high in the sky.

We still get spooked when airplanes fly overhead. We feel a pang of anticipating fright that another crazed terrorist is aiming at another downtown target. So I, for one, did not walk the several hundred yards from my apartment to garner a look at a reality that was too much to bare—the carnage that could have occurred.

Instead, I stayed home and remembered the day I stood across the street from the World Trade Center and watched the silver underbelly of the second plane hit the south tower and ignite a behemoth fireball.

Reading and listening to the stories of the 150 passengers on Flight 1549, I thought about the almost 3,000 people who died in the 9/11 attacks; I even had a naive, childlike wish that these stories of survival were coming from the mouths of those who died in the towers.

Almost eight years later, we survivors of 9/11 are still rebuilding, with a new found understanding of how quickly even the most secure and stable life can be destroyed.

So I was grateful when I interviewed Long Island native, Dr. Christopher McCarthy, director of emergency services at St. Vincent’s Hospital for Newsday last week. He recapped the emergency room mood after the miracle landing.

“There was a sense of overwhelming relief … an uplifting feeling, because there were no fatalities. It was a happiness sorely needed and overdue especially in this town," said McCarthy. He took a moment to remember those who died at the World Trade Center, and his hospital staff who stood idle on 9/11 waiting for survivors who never arrived.

As a journalist who covered the 9/11 attacks, the recovery, the cleanup and now the rebuilding, I had to take a moment to relish his thoughtfulness.

I stopped writing. I looked up and asked him to wait, because my focus had left the present and escaped to that dark place on September 11th. After I returned and read back his quotes to make sure I had the words right, he concluded with an assessment of Thursday’s miracle landing that echoed emotions expressed a million times since 9/11. It was “truly a massive rescue effort in a moment’s notice … That the city can come together so fast is heart warming. It shows extreme professionalism, skill and bravery.”

It felt good to be reminded of this gift.


-Maria Alvarez writes for Newsday and is a 2002 Dart Center Ochberg Fellow.