Bill Zuhoski had settled into Seat 23A of US Airways Flight 1549 as it lifted off from La Guardia Airport and began climbing over the East River. Somewhere over the Bronx, the plane jerked, but Zuhoski figured it had run into some low-altitude turbulence.
Then a flight attendant asked for a fire extinguisher, saying there was a fire on board. The next thing Zuhoski knew, the pilot was telling the passengers to brace themselves, and he was locking arms with the passenger in Seat 23B.
Other passengers on Flight 1549 — what was to have been a 2 hour, 13 minute flight to Charlotte, North Carolina — had heard what sounded like an explosion. Elizabeth McHugh, a project manager for a company that installs information systems in hospitals, called it “a big bang.”
What followed was perhaps even scarier. There was just a lot of silence. The big jet’s engines had died, and the plane was now gliding ominously over one of the nation’s most heavily populated areas.
But the flight crew still had some flying to do. Some smelled smoke. Some the tangy, troubling scent of jet fuel. And they wondered where the plane was heading.
Zuhoski said there was a tremendous impact when the plane splashed down. Many rushed toward the back, thinking that was where the emergency exits were, Zuhoski said, but that part of the fuselage seemed to be sinking, and flooding, faster.
He stripped down to his underwear, the better to swim to safety. As the crowd thinned out, he crawled across the top of the seats and clambered out.
Everyone else in the dinghy had their clothes, and everyone was dry. They huddled, and each peeled off something to outfit him. Soon, they had all stepped off the plane and headed for shore — some to Manhattan, some to New Jersey, all relieved.
Sheikh Ali was waiting at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport for Matt Kane, a co-worker aboard the flight, and did not know why it was late. So Ali sent an e-mail message from his BlackBerry: “Where are you?” Kane’s five-word response told the whole story: “I landed in the Hudson.”