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'Miracle on the Hudson' Provides Insight Into What Plane Crash Victims Endure

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New York, NYIt was one of the feel-good stories of 2009—a story that could have ended in tragedy but showed how resilient people can be in times of crisis. The plane crash of January 15, 2009, when US Airways Flight 1549 crash landed on the Hudson River and everyone aboard survived. As far as plane crashes go, this one certainly ranks up there with the best possible outcome.

However, despite the extraordinary result—no deaths—there were many tense times on the plane, both before and after the crash. Despite surviving the crash landing, many people thought they would not survive waiting on the Hudson River for help to arrive.

According to an article in USA Today (October 13, 2009), Flight 1549 had been in the air only 100 seconds when it collided with a flock of Canadian geese, which had taken out both of the plane's engines. There were 155 passengers and crew on board the flight and the pilot, Chesley Sullenberger, had only a split second to decide what to do. As it turns out, he made the best decision possible.

Books that have come out about the plane crash shed some light onto what plane crash victims experience in the moments before a crash. "Miracle on the Hudson," by William Prochnau and Laura Parker with survivors of Flight 1549, examines the plane's short flight and how the passengers rallied together to keep each other alive.

In the book, as excerpted in USA Today, passengers describe the plane becoming suddenly silent after it collided with the Canadian geese and the engines shut down. Even the passengers in the cabin were silent, except for one woman's scream and a few gasps. From that moment, until they were all safely aboard the rescue vessels, many of the passengers experienced moments where they were certain they were facing imminent death.

They first thought they would die in the plane crash, after Captain Sullenberger told them to brace for impact. Then, even after the plane crashed and they were alive, they faced freezing temperatures in the Hudson River. Some passengers were hospitalized for hypothermia because of the cold. Some felt certain the plane would explode, and got out of the plane quickly, throwing themselves into the Hudson River without life preservers.

Others, who were not out of the plane so quickly thought they would certainly drown inside it—the crash had ripped panels off the plane's undercarriage, and water was seeping in, both through that and through a hole in the wall that keeps the plane's cabin pressurized. Even as they waited on the plane's wings, passengers faced hypothermia as the water rose around them.

Some questions that have been asked in the wake of the plane crash are why there did not appear to be enough room in the life rafts for all passengers and crew aboard Flight 1549 and whether more can be done to prevent catastrophic bird strikes, like the one Flight 1549 experienced.

The good news is that all were rescued and Captain Sullenberger was celebrated as a hero. The passengers, who felt certain they were about to die, survived and were reunited with their loved ones. Unfortunately, not all plane crashes end so well. A month later, in February, a plane crash near Buffalo, NY, took the lives of all people on board and one on the ground.

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