|Hudson plane crash survivor still ‘braced for impact’|
A UMNS Report
By Reed Galin*
Jan. 19, 2010 | CHARLOTTE, N.C. (UMNS)
“Brace for impact” could have been the last words Dave Sanderson
heard as U.S. Air Flight 1549 descended toward the Hudson River on Jan.
Many Americans know those three words as Capt. Chesley B. “Sully”
Sullenberger’s simple, by-the-book instruction to calm his passengers
moments before the “Miracle on the Hudson,” when the veteran pilot
brought the jet down safely, skimming it atop the icy New York river.
Images of passengers and crew climbing out of the plane and onto the
wings, awaiting the rescue that arrived in moments, beamed around the
Dave Sanderson, survivor of U.S. Air
Flight 1549, today gives motivational speeches about
approaching life always "braced for
impact.” UMNS Photos by Reed Galin.
Given a second chance at life, Sanderson has vowed to make the most of
it. That sentiment drives him to climb, sometimes with admitted fear,
back onto planes regularly so he can deliver motivational speeches about
He, his friends and family know the Charlotte, N.C., businessman has
changed. His pastor at Providence United Methodist, the Rev. Ken Carter,
says the time spent on the wings of the plane and in the icy water
itself was really a baptism for his friend.
“He went into the water and came out of the water a different person.
Dave has always been a person searching for meaning and purpose in life …
and he’s been open to sharing that profound experience with others. … I
think he’s been a source of strength and renewal to a lot of other
While Sanderson admits to that new purpose, that passion, he also
remembers the fear of the moments that preceded that rebirth.
“I knew we lost an engine ’cause I looked out the window and I saw the
flames. I smelled a different smell, but I didn’t know the same thing
happened on the other side of the plane … so, when Captain Sullenberger
said, ‘Brace for impact’ … I felt I’ve got another maybe
minute-and-a-half left of my life, and I better get squared pretty
‘God has given me a pathway’
He wasn’t supposed to be on the plane that left LaGuardia and was bound
for Charlotte when birds knocked out both engines. His business meeting
in New York had ended early and so he caught an earlier flight home. It
led to the experience that has propelled him to almost constant
barnstorming in the year since, reliving the miracle and what it did for
him in speeches for The Red Cross and other nonprofits.
He talks about the plane’s belly hitting the river, icy water flooding
the passenger compartment, and the realization—as Sullenberger and crew
made sure all passengers escaped safely—that he might actually survive.
Sanderson talks about the bright light that shined through the window
into the flooding cabin and how his mother’s “voice” guided him. “In my
head, the whole time I was trying to get off the plane, (I heard), ‘Do
the right thing. God will take care of you.’ That’s something she said
to me when I was a little kid … and it did play out that way.”
Sanderson helped other passengers onto the wings as the jet drifted
downriver and he was one of the last passengers out. Rescue boats—river
ferries—arrived within minutes. Everyone survived. Sanderson, suffering
hypothermia, was one of the few who required even brief hospitalization.
“Once I got to shore, I couldn’t even feel anything; people had to
carry me to the triage center and then the hospital. At that point, God
took care of me. I didn’t really understand how bad off I was until
Since that time, while telling that story, going about his business or
spending time with his friends and family, he admits he’s lived like a
man with no time to waste. There are endless people to talk to, to help,
and he views his second chance as a time with profound
“My life became more evident that day as to (what) my purpose on Earth
was,” he says. “God has given me a pathway to share what happened to
‘We’ll figure it out’
Afterward, the media wanted to talk to survivors about the facts of the
crash and survival. But to Sanderson, a literal “miracle” had taken
place on the Hudson, and he wanted to talk about its meaning to him. He
began speaking at churches, including his own. Active in the
congregation before the crash, he found his spirituality more focused.
He says emerging from the Hudson gave him a ministry and an obligation
to share the message of faith and hope he believes his survival
Sanderson says he has new purpose in life.
He wastes no time or energy guarding his thoughts. He speaks
matter-of-factly about nightly dreams about the bone-biting cold of that
day. He admits that traveling almost every week to share his
experience, along with additional travel required by his job as a sales
executive for Oracle Corp., is not always appreciated by his wife and
But he says life is better, because he appreciates each day.
“One of my new phrases in life is ‘We’ll figure it out,’” he says. “I
can’t say it hasn’t happened since, but before, I got upset over little
things all the time. Now, when something happens, whether it’s business
or family, it’s OK. We’ll figure it out.”
The other new phrase in Dave Sanderson’s life is “Brace for impact,” the
words he thought would be the last he’d ever hear. Now he thinks of
those words as a motto telling him always to be ready for what
comes next in life.
*Galin is a freelance video producer in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Joey Butler, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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