Crew, passengers in Charlotte celebrate 10 years after 'Miracle on the Hudson'

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Tuesday marks the 10th anniversary of “The Miracle on the Hudson,” and passengers, crew members and the captain who safely brought down Flight 1549 are all in Charlotte to celebrate the impossible.

Some of the survivors came to the Carolinas Aviation Museum to see that plane again and reflect on the past decade.

There were plenty of community leaders at the museum to celebrate, including Mayor Vi Lyles and a former governor of New York.

Many of the passengers have been in touch frequently since that amazing crash landing and rescue brought them together.

Many brought family to share the memory and joy of the second chance at life that few of us get.

Eyewitness News reporter Mark Barber spoke with Jim Whitaker, a passenger on board US Airways Flight 1549.

"It’s this weird bond that you don’t have to explain. If there aren’t any words that go with it. You don’t have to explain it, you just look at each other and you know, yeah we did do that together," said Whitaker.

After a bird strike took out the engines of the Charlotte-bound flight, passengers said they remember every moment of the three-and-a-half minutes that followed.

The pilot, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, landed the plane on the Hudson River at 150 mph. Incredibly -- miraculously -- all 155 people on board survived.

The "Miracle on the Hudson" is one of the most amazing stories in aviation history. Everyone survived -- and many who did -- say it changed their lives.

Passenger Beth McHugh said she can remember exactly where she was sitting, despite the flight taking place 10 years ago.

Jim Whitaker said he was not supposed to be on the plane. He had gotten the last standby seat on what was supposed to be a routine flight back to Charlotte.

"And we're taking off and I'm trying to read the newspaper and all of sudden, boom," Whitaker said.

McHugh said as soon as she heard the boom, she and everyone else started to try to figure out what happened.

"What we didn't know, until a few seconds later, was that both of the engines had basically exploded at the same time," McHugh said.

"That's a bad feeling, when all of that thrust suddenly goes away and it's just silent as you're floating through the air," Whitaker said.

McHugh said she could hear people murmuring, people praying, and people pulling out their cell phones to call home.

She said despite the situation, she felt a certain calm and acceptance.

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"Once I realized that we're all probably going to die here, and at that point, I did feel a certain calm come over me, an acceptance of what's going to happen will happen," McHugh said.

But what happened, was the "miracle."

Flight 1549 hit the Hudson River at 150 mph, slowed, tilted to the left, and finally stopped.

"When I stood up, I looked down at my seat to make sure that I actually was alive," McHugh said.

McHugh and Whitaker were alive after the plane crashed, but they said they realized the danger was not over yet.

The back end of the plane where McHugh and Whitaker were sitting hit the Hudson River first, ripped open and icy water was rushing in.

"I thought 'Oh my gosh. We survived a plane crash and we're going to drown now. We're back here and we're going to drown before we get out,'" McHugh said. "I just remember struggling through the water first and then struggling to get past people and carrying the seat cushion in front of me."

Whitaker said there was a pause to get the evacuation started, but once it started, it was a hurried process to get everyone off the plane quickly.

It was the second miracle that all 155 on board made it out safely with only minor injuries.

They will all tell you that every day they have spent over the last 10 years with family and friends has been its own miracle -- the miracle of life.

"A sense of hope. That good things can happen. That good things do happen. Miracles happen," McBeth said.

Channel 9's Mark Becker asked Whitaker if he ever gets tired of telling the story.

"No! It's a miracle. It's a miracle. It's a story that should be retold over and over again as long as people are willing to listen," Whitaker said.

“Because of when and where this happened -- a time in the world's history, the financial meltdown of '08-'09 when it seemed like everything was going wrong and no one could do anything right -- I think some people had begun to doubt human nature and wondering if it was really about self-interest and greed and then along came this group of strangers who rose to the occasion and made sure that everyone survived, and I think at a time when we all needed it, it gave us hope,” Sullenberger said.

Sullenberger and the passengers he brought to safety will all be coming to Charlotte Tuesday for a private event and a special lunch.

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