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Passengers amazed to be alive, grateful to pilot

Fri., Jan. 16, 2009

After landing, ‘everyone got to the exits’ safely, calmly

NEW YORK – Shock, relief, gratitude. Most of all, the soaked and freezing passengers of Flight 1549 just seemed amazed to be alive. All of them.

“You’ve got to give it to the pilot,” said Jeff Kolodjay, of Norwalk, Conn., who was aboard the US Airways jet that ditched in the frigid Hudson River after an apparent collision with a flock of birds. “He made a hell of a landing.”

“He was phenomenal,” echoed Joe Hart, of Long Island, a salesman with investment firm ING. “He landed it – I tell you what – the impact wasn’t a whole lot more than a rear-end (collision).”

Soon after the plane took off from LaGuardia Airport for Charlotte, N.C., passenger Albert Panero felt “an impact and some sort of loud noise.” He started smelling smoke. “Everybody could tell that something was kind of going on, it wasn’t just turbulence or something like that.”

Soon, Panero said on WABC-TV, “I knew that we were going down.”

“You think of all the things that are about to happen,” he said. “I thought, ‘I guess this is it. I guess I’m going to die.’ I turned my phone back on because it’s got GPS. I figured if anything happened, they could find me – or find whatever’s left.”

But then, the plane hit the water, and Panero was surprised that no huge explosion ensued. “I looked outside, and you could just see the water start creeping up pretty quick,” he said. “So that’s when I said, ‘OK, we gotta get out of here.’ ”

At first, there was “a mixed emotion of yelling and crying,” Panero said. But it didn’t last. “A couple people just kind of took charge and calmed everyone. Everyone got to the exits, and whoever was there just opened them up.”

Most of all, Panero was grateful to the pilot. “I can’t believe he managed to land that plane,” he marveled.

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