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General Interest

THIS IS THE FUTURE FOR 155 LUCKY SOULS

Well, here we are, living in yesterday’s future, the only place we can possibly be. With any luck, we’ll be here tomorrow, which is today’s future. It’s a pretty good system considering some of our yesterdays. Tomorrow is never a bad day, unless you’ve got an appointment for a root canal or something. For the most part, tomorrow is going to be your day, that magic tomorrow when the light shines on you and everything goes your way. When fortune smiles.  It seldom works out that way, but we don’t know that, so we hope, we pray, we make our plans. And whatever happens, happens, and then there’s always tomorrow again.

In the Hudson River in New York City yesterday there were 155 people not thinking about any of this. They had all boarded a plane an hour earlier headed for Charlotte, North Carolina, 155 people for various reasons. For five of them the airplane was their work place, a pilot, a copilot and three flight attendants expecting a routine short flight, just another day at the office. So much for taking things for granted.

The plane happened to share its flight path with a flock of geese and sucked one or more of them into each of its two engines, shutting them down at 3,500 feet in the air. This is usually the point in these stories that is only discovered when authorities locate the little black box that is the flight recorder from the smoldering wreckage of an airplane in which all aboard have perished. Yesterday just wasn’t one of those days for those lucky 155 people.  

The pilot calmly reported what happened to air traffic controllers and they instructed him to try to make it to Teeterborough airport in New Jersey if he possibly could. He couldn’t possibly. The plane’s engines were out and he was over densely populated New York City, a place with few desirable options for landing a broken jumbo jet. So the pilot, a man with the impressive name of Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger III and equally impressive piloting skills, decided that the best chance for his 150 passengers and the 8 million non-passengers directly below him was to try to land in the Hudson River.

That has happened from time to time in various places throughout aviation history, but never with the results pulled off by Mr. Sullenberger. He splashed the jet down lightly in the Hudson River just south of the George Washington Bridge, or as lightly as 50 tons of steel and highly flammable jet fuel can splash down. Well, he did it, with no serious injuries at all, an amazing feat, but now he had to deal with a huge jet not built to float slowly sinking into the icy waters of the Hudson on a very cold January day. Drowning and death from exposure were very real possibilities.

Enter the Magnificent New Yorkers. Fire and Police Department rescue boats swung into action and passenger ferries bee-lined to the stricken plane, quickly off-loading the passengers who were standing on the jet’s wings knee-deep in ice water. Thirty more who were in the drink were fished out before the 5 minute deadline for fatal hypothermia was reached. The Hudson is a busy river filled with all sorts of craft on any given day and all that were in the vicinity of the crash got very busy very quickly. There had been no time to organize any kind of coordinated rescue. No need, as it turned out. Ferries, tug boats and even helicopters joined the official response, swiftly transferring the passengers to scores of ambulances waiting onshore. Police divers plunged into the icy river to facilitate the transfer. The jumbo jet cooperated by floating for hours, eventually hitting land at the foot of Manhattan near Battery Park long after all aboard were safely evacuated.

So 155 people who very reasonably thought they had run out tomorrows now get another one. Who knows what their thought process is on this whole affair? While one can’t really guess that, it is safe to assume their minds are pretty busy right now and that not a single one of them will shrug this off and put it out of their mind. At the very least, they have to know they have one thing in common with 154 people that they did not have in common yesterday. They all walked away from the crash of a jumbo jet in New York City on a cold day that should have been their last day on Earth. But it wasn’t, and we are all witness to their shared miracle. This surely was that magic tomorrow for those 155 lucky souls, when the light shined upon them and fortune smiled. You just never know, do you?

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