The Plane Crash that Gave Us Hope

One year after the miracle landing of Flight 1549, we investigate the ripple effect of how it changed people's lives for the better.

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What began at first to look like a devastating twist of fate turned into an extraordinary date with destiny for the people on that plane. And they all went home alive--recipients of a gift and a second chance. They came away with the grace to go on and build on a miracle. And during the past 12 months they have opened their hearts and minds to what that means, individually and collectively.

  • Bill Elkin asks, “why am I here” and begins to give talks at churches. The theme?: Imagine you had one minute to live.
  • Dave Sanderson begins speaking to groups large and small across the country about hope, about how we all can be heroes, about how miracles are possible. He shares proceeds with the Red Cross, extending the circle of giving and receiving.
  • Gerry McNamara, who used to swim in the Hudson as a boy, writes up his story of the crash and watches it go viral across the Internet. A private guy grapples with suddenly becoming very public. “I’m meant to do this,” he decides. “This is a way I can serve.”
  • Beth McHugh, her heart full of gratitude, vows to hug everyone she meets. “Each person is a gift I didn’t expect to have,” she says, “and maybe when they hug me they can feel they are hugging life.” At Newark Airport a few days after the crash she is pulled off the line for extra screening. She explains to the woman security agent patting her down about her vow to hug. “But I understand your need for boundaries,” Beth says, to which the agent replies, “Honey, bring it on!”
  • Hilda, the doctor who identified Barry Leonard’s (who is barry?) weakened state at the scene and watched over his care for three days in the hospital, is moved to tears when Barry honors her and all Jersey first responders at a thank-you luncheon. Later, she calls upon the miracle to motivate a patient losing the will to live. “Those passengers thought they were going to die,” she says, “but when that plane landed they made a different choice. Isn’t life sacred?” Her patient turns the corner.
  • Brad Wentzell remembers back to his childhood. A time of too many fights, too much trouble. “Bad kid!” they all called him. Now he holds up the moving letter from Tess, the mom with the baby, thanking him for helping to save their lives, and he thinks: “If this is the one good thing I do in life, it is enough.”
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Kevin Quirk
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