On January 15th, 2009, US Airways Flight 1549, an Airbus A320 with 155 on board, experienced an “bird strike” disabling the jet. Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and First Officer Jeff Skyles successfully landed the aircraft in the Hudson River between midtown Manhattan and Weehawken. All passengers and crew members survived.
As usual, New York City received most of the media coverage, but the first responders and ferry boat crews from the other side of the river also came to the rescue and performed in a highly professional manner. The people rescued, and taken to the New Jersey side, have a special appreciation for this state and its emergency and medical personnel.
After the emergency landing, passengers evacuated the aircraft and took refuge on the wings and in rafts.
North Hudson Fire Control dispatched a full assignment to 1 Pershing Rd., Weehawken, at the waterfront just south of the NY Waterway ferry terminal, for a plane down in the Hudson. As a matter of fact, a responding Weehawken police officer radioed in, “It’s a big plane!”
A unified command post was set up in the valet parking lot area of Arthur’s Landing Restaurant with North Hudson and additional incoming emergency units. This included local police and EMS, OEM personnel and the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey police. The North Hudson FD incident commander was Deputy Chief Dave Curtis. The first due battalion chief was 2nd Battalion Chief Mike Cranwell, a licensed pilot. EMS and police units were sent to the ferry terminal to receive victims. Third Battalion Chief William Valentine, along with Rescue 1 and Ladder 4, were sent to the ferry terminal and Battalion 3 assigned ferry division supervisor. This area was the first designated as a sheltered triage center with Battalion Chief Mike Giacumbo assigned as the victim tracking officer.
Quick thinking ferry captains redirected their vessels to the plane to render aid and were the first rescue boats to arrive and aid victims. Members of North Hudson Squads 1 and 7 and Engine 5, plus Weehawken and Port Authority police officers, boarded the ferry “Henry Hudson,” moored at Arthur’s Landing, and within two minutes the boat was headed toward the stranded passengers. They were the first NJ emergency personnel to reach the aircraft. FDNY Marine 1 Alpha and North Hudson Marine 1 were the first fire boats on the scene.
The “Henry Hudson” was soon joined by more ferries, FDNY and NYPD vessels and US Coast Guard boats. Squad 1’s officer radioed to command that three FDNY fire boats, NH Marine 1 and three ferries were removing survivors. Within 40-minutes, the airliner’s rescued passengers and crew members were on shore in New Jersey or Manhattan.
A NJ EMS Task Force was mobilized, but only partially deployed. Victims could be taken to a warm triage area, two-miles south of Palisades Medical Center. Two USCG inflatable boats arrived at Arthur’s Landing Restaurant with 19 passengers, where they were treated for non-life-threatening injuries, mostly cuts and bruises. Ferries brought 42 passengers to the main ferry terminal. Three were immediately taken to the hospital for possible hypothermia.
A total of 61 passengers were taken to the NJ side of the Hudson. Some of the passengers were taken inside the restaurant for shelter and examined by EMT’s and assisted by North Hudson firefighters. The restaurant provided refreshments. Firefighters assisted and offered comforting words. They offered their cell phones for victims to call loved ones-including one call to Australia!
In the evening, passengers were taken by municipal bus to the Weehawken Senior Citizen Nutrition Center, where they were reunited with loved ones.
Six months after the Miracle on the Hudson, two Flight 1549 passengers came back to New Jersey and thanked their heroes with a lunch behind Palisades Medical Center, North Bergen, overlooking the Hudson River, on July 28th. Dave Sanderson and Barry Leonard, both North Carolina residents, came back to the hospital. Sanderson suffered severe hypothermia while he stood in the frigid water helping passengers transfer from the plane to a raft. He swam to get on a ferry. Leonard swam to a life raft and then boarded a ferry. He suffered a fractured sternum and hypothermia.
During the ceremony and lunch, Sanderson mentioned a North Bergen EMT, Heather Bailey, that helped him. She was present and Sanderson gave her a big hug and a thank you. Leonard recognized Dr. Hilda Roque. “She was my angel,” he said. Along with hospital and EMS personnel, there were representatives from the North Hudson FD, NY Waterway, the USCG, American Red Cross and local police departments.
In 2016, Sanderson returned to PMC for a signing of his new book, “Moments Matter.” He spoke to a room filled with medial personnel and first responders.
“I feel very passionate about the people in New Jersey.”