Flight 1549's passengers are getting together to celebrate life after their near-death experience
Beverly Waters says she can still clearly remember three separate times she was sure she was going to die back on January 15th, 2009.
The first time was when she heard a loud bang — that was the Canada geese smashing into the plane and taking out both engines. The second was when Captain Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger told passengers to “brace for impact.” And the third was when water from the Hudson River started rushing into the back of the plane where Waters was sitting. For a few minutes, she thought she was trapped.
Ten years after the Miracle on the Hudson, Flight 1549’s passengers are getting together to celebrate life.
“I can’t believe it’s been ten years. The whole thing was surreal,” the 57-year old tells PEOPLE of being one of the 153 passengers and crew on board the passenger jet — all of whom survived — when it made an unprecedented emergency landing in the frigid New York waterway.
“I didn’t even realize I was standing on the wing of a plane when we finally made it out. I just remember shaking and being so cold,” she adds. Because Waters was the last one to make it out on the wing, she ended up being the first pulled to safety on a boat. She still keeps in touch with two of the New York firefighters who helped rescue her, and regularly talks to many of the other passengers. “A lot of us are on a group text and [the firefighters] Tom and John send me a text every January 15th to tell me they’re thinking of me.”
The survivors are all gathering at a handful of special celebrations in Charlotte, North Carolina today, to mark the ten-year anniversary of the landing that captivated the world. Flight 1549 was headed from New York’s LaGuardia Airport to Charlotte, North Carolina, when the bird strike occurred, and the plane now permanently resides in Charlotte’s Carolinas Aviation Museum.
Waters is there often, she volunteers, talking to museum visitors about what she and the others went through that day. More than 80 passengers, the entire crew and even then New York Governor David Patterson, who coined the phrase “Miracle on the Hudson” will gather at the museum later today to say a special toast at the exact moment the plane went into the river, 3:31pm
Denise Lockie, who was in seat 2C and suffered a minor leg injury says, “Seeing the crew all together will be bone chilling and just being with all of the other passengers will be very emotional. It always is.” Lockie now volunteers with a non-profit that works with the FAA and the NTSB to promote airline passenger safety.
Right after the crash, Lockie took a four-year sabbatical and says, “I did a lot of soul searching. I realized I’m not in control of everything. I consider the whole thing a gift now. I think I’m more empathetic and it’s changed the way I look at life, I try to focus on the positive.” And she says she hugs Sully and First Officer Jeff Skiles every time she sees them. “I wouldn’t be alive if not for them,” she tells PEOPLE.”
Waters adds, “You saw the best of people that day. Everybody helped each other, making sure everybody was ok – it literally was an incredible experience to go through. I wouldn’t want to do it again…no words can describe and convey what we all went through, but I’m grateful for the experience and I’m just happy to be alive.”