April 20, 2009

More "Hudson Miracle"

Before you read this great interview with our friend, I'm very excited to tell you that Part 3 of Disney's Animal Kingdom: A True-Life Adventure will be posted on Earth Day, Wednesday, April 22. Don't miss it!
More on our friends and their US Airways Miracle- from Lockheed Martin's internal newspaper.

Miracle On The Hudson’ Touches Lockheed Martin Family

Having recently started his first fulltime job after college, IS&GS-Defense hardware engineer Chris Rooney was enjoying a break. He had taken a week off from his Battle Management and Communications job in Colorado Springs, Colo., to spend time in New York City with friends.
That relaxing week came to a jolting end on January 15.

Rooney and girlfriend Karin Hill were among the 155 passengers and crew aboard US Airways Flight 1549, which landed safely on the Hudson River after a bird strike severely damaged the aircraft’s engines shortly after takeoff.

"As the more experienced flyer, I remember explaining to Karin about what normally happens on takeoff in order to calm her anxiety of flying," Rooney recalled of their pre-flight activities. "I find that aspect a little ironic now because three minutes into the flight, I definitely ran out of explanations as to why the aircraft was obviously maneuvering off course and losing altitude. But I do remember telling her that we must be heading back to the airport."
What we all know now but Rooney didn’t know at that time was that the crippled airplane could not return to the airport—nor could it land at another airport. Capt. Chesley Sullenberger decided the only option was to land on the Hudson River.

"The jolt that violently shook the airplane, plus a quick look out the window, made me realize that we were headed toward the water," Rooney said. "I had heard of water landings before, and the airplane’s approach seemed in line with what I’d read. But my technical mind didn’t have much time to think any further when the captain told everyone to ‘brace for impact’."

After he heard those chilling words, Rooney said, the landing was extremely hard. "Karin and I said a prayer for a safe outcome. Then we were immediately thrown forward when we hit the water. But it was not nearly as bad as I had thought it would be for as fast as we were going."

The adrenaline was flowing as Rooney and Hill followed other passengers up the aisle to the emergency exits in the front of the plane. Seated in row 18, they didn’t recall hearing any directions from the flight staff or hearing anyone in the back of the plane, which they later learned was filling up with water. Describing the scene as surreal, he said that "everyone seemed to be calm and took time to help one another to get out of the plane.

Pictured: Rooney and Hill cling to the exit doorsill of Flight 1549 (pictured above in front of the first "S" of the US Airways logo. Hill is wearing a light colored shirt and Rooney a dark shirt).

"Many people were able to get into rafts or were standing on the wing. The right engine was still attached to the wing when we approached the exit," he said. "It was weighing down that side—so much so that we were in the water. We ended up balancing on the exit doorsill with water up to our waists at times. This raised the biggest question in our minds — how long will we have to be in the near-freezing water?"

Rooney recalled a family of four that he and Karin assisted into the safety rafts. They also passed an 18-month-old child along those waiting on the wing to help the mother as she got into a raft. The rescue teams were on the scene within minutes of the landing, beginning with the ferry boats that headed directly toward the downed plane. The sight of the boats brought comfort to most of the passengers who were stranded on the wings or were in the water. Within 15 to 20 minutes, each passenger had been plucked out of the icy waters and loaded onto the ferries that quickly headed to shore and the waiting ambulances.

"Our ferry went to the New Jersey side," Rooney said. "We decided to get checked out at the hospital since my hands and lower body were extremely cold and we wanted to ensure that once the adrenaline wore off, we wouldn’t have any lingering injuries. Once we were cleared to leave, the US Air team was amazing in getting us lodging, clothing, shoes, food — the necessities for our overnight stay."

Rooney’s father, a commercial airline pilot, had flown to New York from Hawaii when he learned the plane had gone down. After a quick call to Rooney’s mom, his dad was on his way to help his son.

"That evening, seeing him and our New York friends gave us an amazing, comforting feeling," Rooney recalled. "It was as if all the stress of the day dissolved when I saw him. It was just a relief to know that we survived and were here to tell the story. Karin and I joke now that the next time we get on an airplane, we should read the emergency card. We both wished we had grabbed the yellow life vests under our seats.

"We are truly grateful for being alive, for having supportive family and friends, and for having a strong faith in God. We’d like to express our sincerest gratitude to the flight captain, to whom we all owe so much, the US Air 1549 crew, US Air personnel, NYC ferry workers, and all the emergency responders on the scene."

For most, the picture of passengers standing on the wings of an airplane as it slowly sinks into the icy Hudson River is hard to forget. With the recent crashes of a single-engine plane in Butte, Mont., and Continental flight 3407 in Buffalo, N.Y., Rooney said he turns to his faith for grappling with questions about surviving the "The Miracle on the Hudson."

Rooney said when it comes to flying, especially the takeoff and landing, he and Hill still have anxiety. Plus, he said, sleeping doesn’t come easy. "I think I had some post-traumatic stress. But I know that I must be on Earth for a reason. "I find some comfort in knowing we have a purpose in life — I still don’t know what it is — but I’m grateful to God for giving us this opportunity to live out that purpose."

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