Saturday, January 17, 2009


US airways crash
Statements from passengers
witnesses and rescuers

Wall Street Journal

[he following are accounts from witnesses and survivors of the US Airways crash in New York's Hudson River.]

Trouble Began Shortly After Takeoff

A crash survivor, Jeff Kolodjay, who was seated in seat 22A of the plane, said the trouble began three or four minutes after takeoff from LaGuardia airport. The plane first encountered a lot of turbulence, he said. Then he saw smoke and flames rising over the wing. The plane circled around to head back in the direction of the airport, he said. Everyone on board was hoping it could make it back to the airport. When it became clear that it wouldn't, "everyone started saying prayers and kinda looking at each other," Mr. Kolodjay said. But the pilot managed to maneuver the plane well. "I never wanted to die. The pilot did a good job of putting the plane on the water. It didn't feel too good, but it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be." As he described the ordeal to a reporter, Mr. Kolodjay was shivering in the cold on the Western waterfront of Manhattan around 40th Street, trying to call someone on his cellphone. Manhattan's borough president, Scott Stringer, who was at the scene, said of the rescue efforts: "There's a lot of heroes."

Not That Bad

One survivor, who gave his name as Julian Williams, called out to spectators at the Weehawken terminal in New Jersey, "It wasn't that bad."

Woman Falls

According to two police department divers, one woman waiting to be rescued fell off as she was getting on a Coast Guard craft. An elderly woman struggled to get pulled on to a ferry, pleading with one of the divers, "please don't let me go." She was wearing a life vest.

Passengers Brought to Weehawken Restaurant

John Keyser, the sous chef at Arthur's Landing in Weehawken, N.J., a steak-and-seafood restaurant which faces the Hudson River, witnessed the crash as he was looking outside the restaurant's wall of windows. "It was very surreal. After 9/11 you think the worst," he says.

Mr. Keyser and the rest of the staff watched as the plane, just after impact, started to drift downstream with the current. But four ferries were in the midst of their commuter route and they immediately turned and headed to the plane in an effort to hold it in place.

Mr. Keyser says he saw about 30 people on one of the wings who then climbed onto the ferries.

Within 20 minutes a ferry had docked next to the restaurant and 19 survivors began to stream in, says Michael Haimowitz, executive chef at the restaurant, which was just about to open for dinner. He was told that the restaurant was the first place survivors were brought.

The restaurant staff immediately made space in the dining room for the wet passengers and brought out white coats that chefs wear along with checkered pants, even chef's hats--anything that might provide warmth. Wilson Espinoza, the assistant general manager literally gave the shirt off his back and spent the rest of the evening wearing just an undershirt and his coat.

Yet, when asked if he wanted to change his shirt, one male survivor said: "No. I'm not ever taking this shirt off. It's my lucky shirt," recalls Mr. Haimowitz.

One male passenger requested a Scotch and was promptly served. Other survivors received hot coffee as well as steak-and-pastrami sandwiches, because at least one passenger needed food due to low blood sugar.

The restaurant swelled to about 300 people as police officers and emergency personnel arrived--some of whom stayed on for drinks after the survivors left about two hours after the crash.

Panic in the Freezing Water

Ferry operator New York Waterway sent 14 boats to help with the rescue. As part of their training, they practice performing rescues once every couple of weeks. They lower ladders into the water people can climb up out of the water or step into a cradle and the crew will pull them up. Those techniques were used after Thursday's accident.

Vince Lombardi, for six years the captain of the New York Waterway craft, the Thomas Jefferson, said his boat got there in roughly three minutes. His boat was just leaving the New York side of the Hudson when the plane crashed. He pulled out 56 people, including two babies, some who were floating in the airplane's inflatable raft, some perched on the plane's wing and some who had fallen in the water. "It was scary, it was hectic," he said.

NY waterway employees who were at the press conference described people panicking in the water. They said it was very cold, shaking and screaming, as they pleaded for help.

One boat captain said he saw the plane go down slowly, heard a splash and the plane stopped right in the water. The plane was smoking when it went down.

Lieutenant Thomas Mirante, a New York City firefighter, was among the rescuers who responded to the crash. He says he helped about 20 of the plane's passengers get off a life raft at the West Side Midtown Ferry Terminal, which is located at the 40th Street pier in Manhattan. Lieutenant Mirante said the passengers were very cold but in pretty good spirits. "They were happy to be alive. They weren't in too much shock because they were happy to be alive," he said. Lieutenant Mirante said the passengers told him they heard a loud boom shortly after takeoff. They told him the pilot had managed to crash-land the plane on the water well, he said. After the plane came to a stop on the water, the life rafts deployed and the passengers got into them. He said they were soaked from the waist down when he helped them out of their life raft.

'Nervously Low'

Patrick Wilder, a 35-year-old social worker, saw the crash unfold from his bike. Earlier in the afternoon, Mr. Wilder had flown back to LaGuardia airport from Detroit. After getting home and washing up, he decided to go for a bike ride on the bike path that traces its way along the West side of Manhattan. He was at 125th Street when he saw a big commercial jetliner that he knew from his own flight back to New York earlier in the day was not on a normal flight path. The plane was going south roughly along the Hudson River. It passed over the George Washington Bridge. After that, its altitude seemed lower than the bluffs on the New Jersey side. "It looked like when you see a plane coming in for an approach," Mr. Wilder recalled. "At one point, it seemed like it was able to pull up, but that was just briefly." He added: "It was nervously low." Though above the water, "it looked like it was landing," he said. Then he lost the plane in the sun.

Reminder of 9/11

Michael Fricklas, general counsel of media company Viacom Inc., witnessed the crash from his 52nd floor office, which overlooks the river. He also witnessed the second plane flying down the Hudson River in a similar manner before crashing into the World Trade Center on 9/11.

"The plane was moving very slowly and low, traveling south along the Hudson River. It looked like it was gliding at that point. It was flying very evenly and looked like it was coming in for landing. When it hit the river, there was a spray of water and it quickly pivoted sideways. The current was strong. It took less than five minutes for the ferry boats to get out there. Perhaps 10-15 minutes for the emergency vehicles and helicopters."

Mr. Fricklas said he saw no fire or smoke coming out of the plane before it hit the water.

Hypothermia Treated

Gabe Wilson, assistant medical director at St. Luke-Roosevelt in midtown Manhattan, said the hospital was treating 10 patients, 6 females and 4 males ranging in age from "early 20s to late 80s". He said they were all in good condition and the worst they were being treated for was hypothermia. He said he didn't expect any more patients tonight. "Twenty or 30 people being treated for hypothermia could easily overwhelm our resources, so it was a relief we didn't see that many," he said.

Helen Rodriguez, an emergency medical worker for six years, brought in a 23-year-old male. She said the man had been asleep on the plane but awoke to yelling and an apparent fire then the plane hit the water. He stripped naked because his clothes were weighing him down, she said. Once he was taken to an ambulance and covered in blankets he began to recover, she said. Ms. Rodriguez's partner, Mike Benny, who turned 37 today, also brought a survivor to the hospital. Mr. Benny had been one of the first responders to the crash site and said he was relieved to see the damage wasn't as bad as he expected.

—Jonathan Rockoff, Amir Efrati and Nathan Koppel and Kelly Evans

US Airways Crash: Statements From Passengers, Witnesses, Rescuers..