Local man recalls surviving the "Miracle on the Hudson"

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Thursday, January 15, 2009 began like many days Jacksonville resident Donald Jones said he's experienced before in his professional life.

Jones was in New York City to attend a convention as the CEO of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists and was beginning his trip back to Jacksonville. Not surprisingly, his flight out of LaGuardia Airport was delayed.

"It turns out we actually left at 3:26 p.m. and it just so happens that is the time the ferries between New Jersey and New York start their runs on the Hudson River," Jones explained.

Little did he know at the time, those ferries would later help save his life.

Only 90 seconds into takeoff, Jones' flight, U.S. Airways #1549, hit a flock of Canadian geese and lost complete engine power.

"(I) didn't know what it was. There was dead silence. I looked at the guy next to me and said, 'That did not sound good," Jones said.

From his seat in the third row, Jones says he could not see any signs of trouble. Behind the scenes at the time, there was ongoing communication between the cockpit and air traffic control about where to try and land the aircraft. Jones said he never thought for a moment he would not survive.

"I never thought for a moment during the entire five minutes that we were not going to make it. (It) just didn't occur to me. That's survival instinct. You just can't imagine that you're going to be on a plane and it's going to go down," Jones explained.

Flight #1549 completed what many believe is the only successful water landing in history by descending into the Hudson River. "My only comment was, I said "Lord help me survive this. That's it," Jones described.

Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, a veteran pilot, is credited as a hero for saving all 155 lives on board. The dramatic event almost immediately became known as "the Miracle on the Hudson." It's a title Jones believes is fitting. According to Jones, "...Sullenberger is remarkable. He is a hero. It was a miracle, no question in my mind about that. Just doesn't happen."

Jones said the impact on the frigid water wasn't what you might expect. When it could have been a disaster, it ended as perfectly as it could have.

"The force was pretty strong, but not as violent as you might think because the way he (Sullenberger) put that plane down," Jones described.

Jones himself ended up in the Hudson for about 10 minutes prior to the arrival of those nearby river ferries. His adrenaline pumping so much he didn't realize just how cold it was.

"I'm trying to climb up it (the ferry ladder) and by this point, I've lost all feeling except in my feet. And, I'm looping my wrist around those ropes and pushing with my feet," he remembered. His feet at the time were wearing a pair of Johnston & Murphy shoes he still owns and wears when he flies. He wears them even when doesn't.

"It is a little superstitious, but it's my security blanket," Jones added.

Still, the memories of that fateful day are far from fading.

Jones, a self-proclaimed workhorse, said, "Every time you get on airplane now, you relive it. You can't help it. No matter how far away from it you get. Rather than it fading it gets closer because I work a lot and travel all the time."

With each flight comes a reminder of just how precious life truly is. It can change in a heartbeat.

Jones and his fellow survivors have remained in contact since the landing, which he refuses to call a crash.

On Wednesday, the five year anniversary, there are plans to reunite in New York City with Sullenberger to "toast to life." Survivors will take a boat to the expect spot where their airplane landed in the Hudson. Jones is unable to attend, but continues to speak publicly about his experience. What's left of the airplane is now on display in Charlotte, North Carolina, the original destination of flight #1549.


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