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Miracle on the Hudson

There are many miracles that we experience on a day-to-day basis, but for the most part, these are personal miracles. It is rare that G-d performs a miracle on such a grand scale that the whole world witnesses and recognizes the event as miraculous.

The recent “miracle on the Hudson” was one such event. A fully loaded passenger plane, the U.S. Airways Airbus A320, made an impeccable emergency landing on the Hudson River when both its engines were knocked out by a flock of geese. All 155 people onboard survived.

It’s unlikely that will ever write a “Song of the Sea” for the Hudson River miracle as we did for the miracle at the Sea of Reeds. Yet there is no doubt that the extraordinary outcome of this potential disaster was due to a series of miracles.

The first miracle was the pilot assigned to the flight, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberg, a former fighter pilot and airline safety consultant. Sullenberg learned to fly at age 14, and flew fighter jets in the air force. He not only learned to pilot a plane, but mastered the science, the art, and the technique of flying and flight safety. He investigated air disasters and studied the psychology of how flight crews behave during a crisis. In a sense, those five minutes aboard flight 1549 were something he had been gearing up for his entire life.

The second miracle was the timing of the descent, shortly after takeoff, when most passengers were still strapped into their seatbelts and before the flight attendants had begun taking out snack carts. Passengers were protected from the impact, and flight attendants were able to respond rapidly to the crisis without having to stow the heavy food carts. Furthermore, weather was clear, and the pilot was able to land the plane on the calm Hudson River rather in the turbulent Atlantic.

The pilot brought the plane down on a highly trafficked stretch of the Hudson. The plane landed on water and not on Manhattan Island, which would have been a far more devastating disaster. Although there were many ferry boats, patrol boats, helicopters and private planes hovering in or above the water, there were no collisions as the plane made its emergency landing. Yet, the presence of the many ferry and patrol boats made the brilliant and rapid water rescue possible.

Had the airplane landed a few hundred yards to the north, it would have hit the George Washington Bridge, causing devastating damage and a heavy loss of life.

The pilot made an incredibly soft landing, despite having no engines and no power. The passengers felt an impact no stronger than a rear-end collision, the force sending them into the seat in front of them. The pilot landed the plane with the tail down and nose up, exactly how the textbooks say an emergency water landing of this sort should be accomplished. Because of the way the plane landed, it did not break apart on impact, and did not catch fire.

As soon as the plane landed, it began to take on water. The feet and then the knees of the passengers became submerged in the freezing water. Flight attendants attempted to get the plane’s back doors open but were not successful. Instead they began sending passengers forward, to the exits over the wings. This movement helped keep the plane steady and allowed the passengers to be moved to safety.

As soon as passengers exited onto the wings, rescue boats were already on hand to take them aboard. Many passengers were moved directly from the plane to a boat, without ever reaching the water. Despite the chaos, the passengers remained calm and followed the instructions of the flight crew and rescuers. The boat operators had all been trained in search and rescue operations; this was a chance for them to put their training into effect, which they did flawlessly.

One terrified mother stood on the plane’s wings, clutching her baby, afraid to toss him to safety in a lifeboat. Finally, fellow passengers prevailed on her to save the baby, and then she herself was helped to safety.

Despite the time they spent in the freezing water, most passengers suffered from only mild hypothermia. Some passengers suffered sprains and scrapes; the worst injury was two broken legs. All passengers were immediately evacuated to shelter on either the Manhattan or New Jersey side of the Hudson. The many resources available in the New York metropolitan area contributed to the rapid response and rescue operation.

In the Passover Haggadah, we recite, “If G-d had split the sea for us, but had not brought us over onto dry land, that would have been enough.” Here G-d split the sea for a phenomenally trained pilot, and all the passengers were brought safely over onto dry land, in the eyes of the entire world. For that, we praise G-d and give Him our everlasting thanks. Dayenu.


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