January 15th, 2009
11:59 PM ET

It's 4:30 and there's a plane floating by

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/US/01/16/hudson.plane.crash/art.tow.gi.jpg caption="Crews prepare to tow the US Airlines Airbus A320 that crash-landed in the Hudson River on Thursday."]

Katherine Lanpher

The plane floated past my apartment – I live about two blocks off the Hudson in the West Village – and when I first saw it I didn't realize what i was looking at, the tugs must be pulling it down the river, it's moving so fast, surrounded by a flotilla of ferries, tugs and police boats, the latter still zipping in circles with their blue lights flashing.

At the pier, people pressed three deep against the railing, cell phones held up to take photos, those with good lenses jumping up on planters and benches. I wasn't the only person to just dump my bike and run, although I couldn't help thinking that today would be a good opportunity to steal a bike, but when I glanced back, everyone had eyes for just one thing, the few lines of the plane that still jut out of the water, the big news story that at this point is probably floating by Battery City as I type.

They closed down the southbound lanes of the West Side Highway and unmarked police cars were on the bike paths and buzzing down the pier. People are so happy that crew and passengers survived, and were shouting the good news into their phones – unless, of course, like me, they were trying to hold them up and take pictures. The man next to me commiserated: he wasn't very good at it either.

My first stop had been the roof and when I ran through our lobby to the elevator bank, one of our porters, Edwin, said I was crazy to go up there in the cold. I threw him a look of Minnesota-bred disdain – you call this cold? – and in a minute, he was by my side. From a distance – just like Julie Gold's song, one of my neighbors – the boats and their lights floated on the water around the plane the way a circle of flowers would if you threw them out on the river.

When I was a young reporter, I used to keep a notebook in the glove compartment of my car, just in case a plane crashed as I was driving around. It's hard to fight that impulse, and i'm so happy that this particular story has a happy ending.


For me, this is such a New York story, the way all the little villages here add up to a big city.I was in a little shop in my neighborhood when a delivery boy walked in and said in perfect Brooklynese "Yo, my ma just called, a plane from JFK just went into the water and everyone's dead." I hurried home, just stricken, and when I saw the dogwalker for my building (a true NY story has a dogwalker), I couldn't believe that he was laughing and joking with the doorman. "Oh," I thought, "he must not know" and so I went to tell him.

"Oh, the plane," he said,"isn't it great?"

No, no, I protested, people are dead and that's when he took my hand and said gently "Katherine, whatever someone told you is wrong. It's LaGuardia, everyone lived and it's going to float right by here."

And THAT's when I ran inside and went to the roof. I've written about the view from my apartment before – whenever I look out those windows, no matter my actual economic status, I feel rich. Now I look out at the Hudson and the lights of the Lackawanna Ferry terminal and I feel . . . grateful.

Editor's note: Katherine Lanpher is the author of the memoir "Leap Days." She is a contributing editor for More magazine and a substitute host on public radio's The Takeaway (www.thetakeaway.org). A former host of "The Al Franken Show" on Air America, she moved to New York five years ago after many years in Minnesota.

Filed under: 360° Radar • Airline Safety • Katherine Lanpher
soundoff (13 Responses)
  1. Bill Nad

    Wow, I see the new stories on this and it is all focused on the peoples faces and on the plane fuselage floating on the river. It is so nice to get such an articulate account of the passersby, the people that are not the story but the observers.

    Katherine I can not wait to read more of your accounts of living in New York.

    January 16, 2009 at 10:07 am |
  2. Alex

    I often wonder if we as Americans don't take so much for granted in our society and look beyond the obvious in the excellence of many people who perform their jobs daily in the service of others. It is not until something horrible or miraculous happens that people like Captain Sullenberger are recognized for what they do. He represents countless numbers of men and women who go out each and every day and perform with the highest degrees of professionalism, yet seek no other attention than a weekly paycheck and a warm meal. Hats off to Captain Sullenberger, his co-Captain and members of that crew on flight 1549 who again proved America still produces the best, most knowledgeable and capable professionals in the world.

    January 16, 2009 at 9:09 am |
  3. Licensed Aircraft Technician

    With so much talk about Aircraft and the how important the operational safety is to all that fly in the aircraft...Why is there no appreciation given to the licensed technicians that certify that the aircraft are safe to return to the air ? Without them the aircraft would not be leaving the ground to go anywhere...

    January 16, 2009 at 8:53 am |
  4. Gary Hopkins

    Dear Captain Sullenberger,

    I hope this message gets to you. In a society of rampant selfishness, where we blame others for our mistakes, demand that others pay for our mistakes, and think that we add value when we encourage and support that reckless behavior, you stand high as a true hero and professional! The media, our government, and private sector leaders should take a lesson from you on how we should behave, and what behavior we should expect from others. The world would be a much better place if everyone approached their lives with your sense of professionalism, dedication, and unselfishness. It was refreshing to hear of your act of courage among all the gloom and doom.

    Thank you!

    January 16, 2009 at 8:32 am |
  5. Alexandra

    From the FLIGHT ATTENDANT perspective... The PILOTS are the PRIMARY AND FOREMOST REASON THAT ALL SURVIVED FLIGHT 1549. For as the CAPTAIN was flying the aircraft and directing the ditching, the FIRST OFFICER was assisting in many ways. However the secondary, and HANDS ON, resaon for SURIVAL are the FLIGHT ATTENDANTS. For the FLIGHT ATTENDANTS opened the door exits and inflated the emergency slides that become survival rafts in the water ditching. FLIGHT ATTENDANTS directed the opening of the window exits, as well as commanded passengers to "RELEASE SEAT BELTS AND GET OUT" ..."DON LIFE VESTS"...."COME THIS WAY"... FLIGHT ATTENDANTS EXECUTE THE EVACUATION THAT THE CAPTAIN COMMANDS. FLIGHT ATTENDANTS ENSURE THAT ALL PASSENGERS EVACUATE. FLIGHT ATTENDANTS ensure that the passengers seated at the emergency window exits are capable of carring out emergency direction if a need arises, as it did today. One thing always left out in accounts is that those often times injured are those that did not have their seat belts fastened. This causes many to be injured during turbulance and during the impact of an accident. Please do not report with acknowledging the FLIGHT ATTENDANTS HERE. For the FLIGHT ATTENDANTS where the first ones to suffer inorder for the terrorists to enter the cockpits; and then first killed in the 911 attacks. The combination of PILOTS, NEW YORK WATER WAY FIRST RESPONDERS AND FLIGHT ATTENDANTS IS WHY THIS MIRACLE TOOK PLACE. So the next time one is flying in a commercial airline before you stick your head into the cockpit and say "So are the pilots rested / not drinking today?"... or you roll your eyes when a flight attendant asks you to comply with a safety requirement ...REMEMBER THE MIRACLE ON THE HUDSON WAS ONLY BECAUSE OF PROFESSIONALS....THE ENTIRE FLIGHT CREW AND NEW YORK EMERGENCY TEAMS!

    January 16, 2009 at 3:19 am |
  6. Michelle

    That must have been something quite amazing.
    At my workplace we were all glued to the television.
    God bless the pilot and crew as well as all of the

    January 16, 2009 at 2:28 am |
  7. SrA Christopher

    This man used all of his training to not only save his own life, but the lives of 155 people. who cares about how old he is? He made a situation that had NO chance of ending well and turned it into a survivable accident. As for putting something on a plane to avoid birds... not going to happen, i am an aircraft mechanic, sound wouldn't travel far enough ahead to make a difference.

    January 16, 2009 at 2:20 am |
  8. Captain Nestor

    I would like to point out that while the "Cpt" did a great job of allocating resources. The first officer may have very well landed the aircraft. I am curious about his back ground. As captain at another airline I hope that people realize it is a team effort up there. No one person makes it a happy day. It truly takes every crew member working together to make an event as this turn out so well.

    January 16, 2009 at 1:53 am |
  9. Tony Stansbery, Traer, Iowa

    Once again the New York service folks exceed expectations. The passenger Jeff Kolodjay said it best "Coodoes to the pilot he saved my live." Everyone involved had to do their job and more for this story to have such a happy ending. My hat is off to all. Today is yet another day that we can be proud to be an American. GREAT JOB!!! Tony Stansbery, Traer, Iowa

    January 16, 2009 at 1:27 am |
  10. Elaine Hanks

    Kudos to the pilot and the rescue teams; but also to all of the EMS crews ready, willing and able to help!

    January 16, 2009 at 12:11 am |
  11. John

    How many people are aware that that heroic pilot will be GROUNDED!!!!!? Pilots are prevented from flying after their 60th birthday. That birthday makes them incompenant to fly. They MUST retire as an airline pilot!!!!

    January 15, 2009 at 11:45 pm |
  12. carol kesling

    this is a perfect example of " WHO IS IN CHARGE"!!!!!!!!!! i rest my case............

    January 15, 2009 at 11:41 pm |
  13. karen bradford

    I was wondering why they dont put something on the planes that give off a noise that makes birds fly a certain distance from the planes. I know there is something that works for deer on cars

    January 15, 2009 at 11:30 pm |