‘Miracle on the Hudson’ survivor celebrates 10th anniversary

Dave Sanderson to speak at a fundraiser in North Bergen on Jan. 15

Dave Sanderson will return to the banks of the Hudson River to deliver a celebratory speech commemorating the life-saving efforts that took place when US Airways Flight 1549 landed safely on the Hudson River.

On Jan.15, at 6:30 p.m., Sanderson will reunite with medical staff who cared for him and most of those rescued. The speech will be at Waterside, a restaurant in North Bergen, at a fundraising dinner for the Rotary Foundation. The event is sponsored by Hackensack University Palisades Medical Center, whose staff treated most of the survivors.

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“It’s going to be a day of thanks, all about gratitude toward the first responders, and a way of giving back,” Sanderson said. “The people at Hackensack Palisades are like my second family now; we’ve kept in touch over the years.”

Brace for impact

On Jan.15, 2009, Sanderson left a meeting in Brooklyn for a routine home-bound flight to Charlotte, N.C. Having arrived at LaGuardia Airport earlier than expected, he was able to catch a flight a few hours before the one scheduled on his ticket.

He boarded the earlier plane, US Airways Flight 1549, and settled in for what he expected would be a routine flight. But shortly after takeoff, the plane lost all power after an engine on the left wing of the plane struck a flock of Canada geese and exploded.

“I knew something serious had happened. The next thing I heard was, ‘This is your captain. Brace for impact.'” – Dave sanderson

“I was sitting on the right side of the plane, and everyone heard the explosion,” Sanderson said. “I didn’t see the fire coming from the left wing, but I knew something serious had happened. The next thing I heard was, ‘This is your captain. Brace for impact.’”

The pilot, Captain Chelsey Sullenburger, had no engine power and, after running through all the available options for dealing with the emergency, told the LaGuardia air traffic control tower, “We’re gonna be in the Hudson,” and began an unavoidable controlled descent into the Hudson River.

“I assumed the worst,” Sanderson said. “I thought that if I did survive, I would be mangled.”

Touchdown and rescue

The plane struck water just off the shore of Port Imperial in Weehawken. The fuselage began to flood rapidly. Members of NY Waterway, firefighters, police officers, and other first responders were able to rescue every passenger on board the sinking plane.

“Thank goodness the first responders and Waterway members jumped in immediately,” Sanderson said. “If they hadn’t gotten there so fast, it would’ve been an entirely different story.”

Sanderson was one of the last passengers to be evacuated. He spent seven minutes in 36-degree water up to his waist, trying to aid fellow passengers escape from a fuselage that was cluttered with debris and luggage.

A pivotal moment

Following a hospital stay, Sanderson returned home, but with survival came psychological trauma he had to overcome.

He dealt with his trauma through public speaking, with the goal of helping others re-frame traumatic experience in a positive way.

“It was my pivotal moment,” Sanderson said.  “I started speaking immediately. I talked in a church about the physical evidence of miracles. A mental health professional encouraged this strategy for me and anyone else going through trauma. So many people internalize traumatic events, but it’s important to get those experiences outside of yourself.”

He routinely visits areas in the United States affected by natural disasters to offer support to those who lose homes or loved ones.

“It’s truly a privilege, and I’m humbled,” Sanderson said. “I get to talk to people and listen to what they’re going through, and hopefully help them get through traumatic experiences. I’m from North Carolina, and every few years we get hit with devastating hurricanes. People lose their homes. It’s amazing to get support from the American Red Cross to hopefully help reduce some of that human suffering.”

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