‘Miracle On The Hudson’ Survivors Remember Bird Strike Crash

By Mark Ackerman

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (CBS4) – January 15, 2009. Chris Rooney and Karin Hill had just spent a weekend together in New York. The young couple then boarded U.S. Airways Flight 1549 for Charlotte, North Carolina where they planned to switch planes to fly home to Colorado.

But just moments into the flight they could tell something was very wrong.

“It sounded like an explosion and the plane shook pretty good,” recalled Chris.

CBS4's Rick Sallinger interviews Chris Rooney and Karin Hill (credit: CBS)

CBS4’s Rick Sallinger interviews Chris Rooney and Karin Hill (credit: CBS)

“I knew something was wrong but I didn’t know what,” said Karin. “He tried to console me and I just began to pray.”

The plane took a hard turn and the couple thought they would return to LaGuardia Airport.

Then they heard the announcement that would change everything.

This is the captain, brace for impact.

Karin thought that meant a rough landing at LaGuardia. Chris looked out the window and saw they were still surrounded by New York City. He realized that Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger was taking the plane down in the Hudson River.

US Airways pilot Sully Sullenberger speaks at a celebration in his honor Jan. 24, 2009 in Danville, California. Sullenberger was honored for guiding his crippled airliner to safe landing in the Hudson River, saving the lives of all 155 on board on Jan. 15, 2009.  (Photo by David Paul Morris/Getty Images)

US Airways pilot Sully Sullenberger speaks at a celebration in his honor Jan. 24, 2009 in Danville, California. Sullenberger was honored for guiding his crippled airliner to safe landing in the Hudson River, saving the lives of all 155 on board on Jan. 15, 2009. (Photo by David Paul Morris/Getty Images)

Even as the plane splashed down, the couple remembered a sense of calm among the passengers.

“People were surprised we were intact and okay,” said Chris.

Karin quickly noticed the plane was starting to fill up with water. Her initial thought was that they survived the crash, but might be trapped inside.

Seated in row 18, the couple grabbed seat cushions and moved forward just a handful of rows before exiting onto the wing. Once outside, the frigid water quickly rose around them.

“I realized I was an icicle,” said Karin. “Everything I was wearing was ice. The water was up to my chest.”

Ferry boats quickly came to the rescue. Life jackets were tossed down to the passengers.

All 155 passengers and crew members were saved.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

It wasn’t until that night, safe in a hotel room, that the couple heard on the news that their plane was downed by a bird strike. A gaggle of Canada geese caused both jet engines to lose power in the moments after takeoff.

“I couldn’t believe it,” said Chris. “You don’t really hear about bird strikes causing planes to go down.”

“We are thankful that we were spared that day,” said Karin.

Just two months after the crash, Chris started engagement ring shopping for Karin. Within a year, the couple was married. At their wedding, Captain Sullenberger surprised the couple with a videotaped message.

Now the couple makes their home in Colorado Springs and has two young children, who they consider products of what has been dubbed the “Miracle on the Hudson.”

“I’m thankful now for that experience,” said Karin. “Because I look at my children, I look at my husband and I know that in an instant things really can change.”

Coming up tonight on CBS4 News at 10, Rick Sallinger shows us bird radar, the latest technology designed to prevent bird strikes, and asks why Denver International Airport, which has more bird strike reports than any other airport in the U.S., has not made the investment.

Here is a preview of his story:

Mark Ackerman is a Special Projects Producer at CBS4. Follow him on Twitter @ackermanmark

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