January 15 marked the 10th anniversary of the “Miracle on the Hudson,” when Captain Chelsey Sullenberger made an uncontrolled descent into the Hudson River after his plane struck a flock of Canada geese and lost all engine power.
NY Waterway captains were the first to arrive on the scene, rescuing the lion’s share of those onboard the plane.
Ten years later, captains Mohamed Gouda, Vincent Lombardi, and Manuel “Manny” Liba shared their firsthand recollections of the rescue, and how it shaped their lives over 10 years.
Captain Mohamed Gouda
At first, Captain Gouda, skipper of the George Washington, didn’t know what to make of Flight 1549 as it kept descending above him.
“They do a lot of movie shooting near the New York skyline,” Gouda said. “Usually, when they do that, we get notification from the Department of Homeland Security. That day, we didn’t hear anything, so I quickly became suspicious.
When the plane hit the water, Gouda feared the worst.
“I thought, ‘that’s it, that airplane is gone.’ But, then, the nose came up” – Captain Mohamed Gouda.
“The plane hit the water with such force, it was entirely under,” Gouda said. “I thought, ‘that’s it, that airplane is gone.’ But, then, the nose came up. The emergency doors opened.”
Gouda said his response was immediate. He saw that lives needed saving on the water, and steered the ferry straight to the plane, with ferry commuters still onboard.
“If one of us bumped into a wing, it would’ve knocked everyone into the water,” Gouda said. “In the moment, all I thought about was the danger people were in.”
After more NY Waterway vessels pulled up to the plane, Gouda began a search for stragglers, and found a woman treading water, who was pulled onto his boat by one of the divers responding to the scene.
“I knew that if anyone went overboard, they were in the greatest danger, so I scanned the area,” Gouda said.
Since that rescue, Gouda saved three people from the tugboat Katherine G., after it capsized near Liberty Island in 2012.
Gouda was also involved in the evacuations from New York following the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
Captain Vincent Lombardi
Captain Vincent Lombardi, skipper of the Thomas Jefferson, was pulling the ferry out of the slip on the New York City side of the river when he first laid eyes on Flight 1549 floating down the Hudson.
“It took me a second to process everything,” Lombardi said. “Once I did, I immediately called the Coast Guard on the radio and told them what I saw.”
Lombardi’s boat was the first to reach the plane. Lombardi said that he faced some challenges throughout the rescue.
“The plane was actually coming down onto me, while I was trying to hold the boat on an angle,” Lombardi said. “My boat wasn’t as maneuverable as some of the jet boats that responded later.” He said he and his crew cleared the starboard wing of passengers and then moved toward a raft in the back that was full of passengers.
Lombardi’s crew cut the raft free from the plane, allowing him to drag it away from the scene; passengers on the raft and the ferry were taken to the New York City side of the river.
“There were firefighters and EMS waiting on the New York side, so I figured they’d get as much help as possible right away,” Lombardi said.
“I’m really thankful that I was part of an actual miracle. That’s how I feel, I’m a faithful man, and I was in God’s plan that day.” – Captain Vincent Lombardi
To celebrate the tenth anniversary, Lombardi will head down to Charlotte, N.C., for a reunion, where Flight 1549 was placed on exhibit at the Carolinas Aviation Museum.
“I’m really thankful that I was part of an actual miracle,” Lombardi said. “That’s how I feel, I’m a faithful man, and I was in God’s plan that day. I was fortunate to be working with such professional and talented mariners. Such great guys.”
Captain Manuel “Manny” Liba
Captain Manny Liba was tied up at a dock when he first noticed Flight 1549 coming down.
“It was unimaginable,” Liba said. “I was frozen even with all my training, it shook me up. I couldn’t make sense of it. Once I saw the plane land and the doors open, I thought, ‘this is real.’”
While Captain Lombardi pulled up to the plane’s right wing, Liba took care of the left side of the plane. Liba recalled the complicated rescue of 14 passengers that his training had thankfully prepared him for.
Frozen in shock
“I had to keep in position while the plane was drifting, to avoid running people over,” Liba said. “People were in water up to their knees or their waists, they were frozen and in shock. They could get up the ladder a few steps, but my crew members had to pull them the rest of the way.”
A nearby restaurant had prepared soup and provided blankets for the passengers, Liba said.
“I reflect upon it, and I really see a combination of little miracles,” Liba said. He said there had been floes of ice on the Hudson just a day prior, and the water landing took place just before the rush hour for ferries and tugboats.
“We were in standby, and it wasn’t until around 6 when they cancelled all the Waterway runs, when we heard it over the radio,” Liba said. “They announced the count we waited all day for: 155.”
That was the number of people rescued. In other words, everyone on the plane, a true miracle.
Mike Montemarano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org