February 8, 2009
(Part 2) of Katie Couric’s interview with the crew of Flight 1549. They were talking in an airplane hangar, which seemed a little odd especially with how Flight Attendant Doreen Welsh felt. She seemed angry about something outside of the discussion. I’m not sure what. I wonder if she wasn’t supposed to be in the back and that explains it. None of them should be forced to fly again. Couric talks with Sullenberger separately as well as with the crew and then there is a segment with the passenger reunion and a small bit in the Sullenberger home reading letters that people have sent. It was disappointing in that there was so little actual interview with the flight crew past the description of the landing. It would have been nice to have a little bio on each of them because without them working as a team – it wouldn’t have worked.
Doreen Welsh was the only one in the back. A crazy passenger opened the rear door and water came rushing in. Since the plane touched down rear end first she got the worst of the impact. Strangest part of the story is that none of the flight attendants knew they landed on water and all three were shocked when they realized it. They didn’t fill in the blanks as to Welsh’s injury or the other passenger who was hurt. There was that one guy, Barry Leonard, who actually tried to swim because he thought they were going to sink. And there was at least one passenger who slipped in the water that you can see on video. Video of part 2 of interview. This part – Part 1 – is not embeddable yet.
Welsh was not in uniform like the rest of the crew.
KATIE COURIC: This is the first time you all have worn your uniforms since January 15th. Doreen? You don’t have yours on.
DOREEN WELSH: I just can’t put it on yet. My uniform was in shreds, soaking wet. I had a different story in the back of that airplane, and mine was more violent and more – the uniform just went to pieces. I can’t explain. I’m just not ready to put it on yet.
Co-pilot Jeff Skiles was the one who first spotted the birds.
COURIC: When you felt them hit the aircraft, did you know right away what they had done to the engines?
JEFF SKILES: Both engines went right back to kind of a hushed state. And that’s probably just about as bad as it gets when you’re an airline pilot, to hear that.
COURIC: Which brings me to you all. Did you know what was going on?”
SHEILA DAILA: It was so quiet. And Donna and I were seated beside each other. She was there. And I was here. And it so quiet. And I said, ‘What was that?’ And we were, you know, I whispered. And you did say, ‘Maybe a bird strike.
COURIC: What was the sensation inside the cabin after the birds hit the engines?
WELSH: I had some panic in the back. And I got out of my seat and I calmed everyone down. I said, ‘It’s okay.’ I said, ‘We might have lost one engine. We’ll circle around.’ And so I thought well everything is okay, and then I heard the old ‘Brace for impact’.
WELSH: Terror, sheer terror.
DAIL thought: Okay, we’re gonna crash on the runway.
DONNA DENT: We began yelling, ‘Brace, brace, heads down, stay down. Brace, brace, heads down, stay down.
Dail told Couric the passengers were not getting in the brace positions when they started giving the command.
DAIL: They were looking out the window. You know, people were just looking to see what was happening.
COURIC: Were they screaming, crying, praying? Was it quiet.
WELSH: People were making cell phone calls in the back. But the most of the people that I could see were in their brace position. And it was so fast. The back of the plane hit first, correct? It was violent. Horrible. Things flew out.
Dent and Dail were at the front and said the impact was not as bad…and that they had landed on a runway.
DAIL: We were thinking that wasn’t so bad. I mean it was a hard impact and I thought, well, the gear must not have been down because there was no bounce to it. It was just a slam.
Asked if they knew they were landing in water.
DENT: No, we didn’t. Not until we looked out the window and saw the water. That’s when we found out and of course I was still thinking well maybe there is water next to the runway that we just landed on.
Welsh: When I got out of my seat and saw that water, it was the most shocked I’ve ever been in my life. Wasn’t expecting that.
Dent said people did not try to get out until Capt. Sullenberger gave the command to evacuate.
COURIC: Once the plane landed, what was the scene like inside that cabin?
DAIL: I could see that I could open my door because the water – I could see it was lower than the door. So I opened my door and my chute automatically came out. It automatically inflated. It sounds wonderful to hear your chute opening up. And then they started coming and Donna was working her door. But there was no pushing and shoving. There was nothing said. And there was no eye contact. They were just going.
Not so in the back. water was rushing in and Welsh, although functioning, was sure she and some of the passengers were going to die.
WELSH: A passenger had come back and pushed back me and opened the door, just enough that the water came flooding in. And I went back twice and tried to re-close it. It would only go so far. It wouldn’t stop, and the water was just rising. You know, garbage cans were float[ing] coffee pots were floating like at this level. And things were flying. It was crazy back there. There was no doubt in my mind it was over. And I just went crazy and started yelling people and pushing people and getting people to go over the seats. And as I was getting up, I thought I might actually live. ‘Cause a second ago, I thought I was gone. So my emotions had gone through, within seconds, accepting death and seeing life. It was unbelievable.
COURIC: Some people told me the passengers jumped in the water. Many of them were afraid that the plane was going to explode or sink and that they wanted to get away from the aircraft.
DENT: I remember seeing a gentleman swimming. And I don’t know if he had been on the wing or how he got there. But he swam over to the life raft. And people pulled him in. I heard that several people slid off the wing. And others would pull them back on.
Welsh was not initially aware of the deep gash on her leg and had to be lifted onto the life raft.
DENT: It was quite a gash. And it was all the way through the muscle and I thought I was going to pass out at that point from it.
They don’t go into the specifics as to how everyone got out or exactly how long it took. They don’t talk about the woman who reportedly had to toss her baby to someone. Here is a nice story about how the eldest woman on the plane told her daughter to leave her and just go. We also don’t know what Jeff Skiles did while Sullneberger walked up and down the plane twice and then grabbed his maintenance logbook and climbed out – the last to exit the plane. Surprisingly, the folks on the life rafts were sitting quietly waiting to be rescued. Sullenberger was asked if anyone said anything to him.
SULLENBERGER: One man did. He said, ‘You saved my life, thank you.’ And he responded: You’re welcome.
He had intentionally landed the plane between the ferry terminals thinking it would optimize survival. He told the folks in the ferries to get the passengers off the wings first. He also said that seeing the passengers standing on the wings of his plane was an amazing sight that he would never forget. As to the rapidity of response:
SULLENBERGER: It was amazing. It was crucial. It was lifesaving, literally.
As for the responders themselves?
SULLENBERGER: ‘Thank you’ seems totally inadequate. I have a debt of gratitude I fear I may never be able to repay.
Then he understands how the passengers and their families feel toward him.
COURIC: According to someone in the pilots’ union, you were still in total professional mode once you got off that airplane.
SULLENBERGER: Well, I may have looked like it, but I was in shock. I just crashed an airplane.
It was hard to tell what he meant by that – that he had crashed it and was walking away or was he shocked that he was involved in one. He had said earlier that he had never thought he would do anything other than land his plane safely down on a runway. He then called his wife, which is funny in itself.
LORI SULLENBERGER: Well, I’ll tell on myself and say that, when he did call our house, I was actually on the other line. And I ignored the phone call twice. And when he called the third time, I said to the person, ‘I think I should take the call.’ And so I hung up and took the call from Sully. And he was very calm and said, ‘I just wanted you to know I’m okay.’ But I thought that meant that he was on the flight coming home, that he had made the connection and was coming home. And I just said, ‘Okay, that’s good.’ And he said, ‘No, there’s been an incident. I had to ditch an airplane in the Hudson River.’ And I laid down on the bed for a moment. I wasn’t crying, but I was just in shock, really shaking hard. I called an old best friend and said, ‘Sully has just crashed an airplane and I don’t know what to do.’ And she said, ‘Go get your girls.’ And so I hung up and I went and got the girls and brought them home. “
Even though he was fairly certain everyone had gotten off and were rescued safely it took several hours until it was confirmed.
SULLENBERGER: After bugging people for hours, I finally got the word that it was official. That the count was 155.
Upon hearing it:
SULLENBERGER: I don’t remember saying anything. But I remember feeling the most intense feeling of relief that I ever felt in my life.
I felt like the weight of the universe had been lifted off my heart.