Miracle on the Hudson River: One Passenger’s Experience

Jorge-sully “No time to blink, no time to think.”
That’s how Jorge Morgado describes the experience and the day that would change his thoughts and his life forever. What started out as a normal day for Jorge didn’t end that way. He had his breakfast, coffee and a kiss goodbye. While most of us don’t think: will this be the last kiss?, for some reason Jorge did think about it on his way out the door.
This is how Jorge calmly describes to me what happened on January 15, 2009, the day that US Air flight 1549 crashed into the Hudson River with 155 passengers aboard.
It was a nasty, snowy day as the five golfers headed out on the Merritt Parkway to pick up their friends and cousins for the drive to LaGuardia Airport in NYC to catch their Spirit Air flight to Myrtle Beach, SC. The usually 1½ hour ride to the airport turns into a 3½ hour fiasco. The snowstorm on the Merritt, bumper-to-bumper traffic and a series of airport “mishaps” — missed flights, cancelled flights and an eventual rebooking on US Air’s flight 1549. As luck has it, the six golfers from Mass get the last six seats on this historic flight. Not only did they get the last six seats, but since it was only a one way (they were still on Spirit Air for the return home) they qualified for a one-on-one special screening by TSA. Weather delays, special screening, plane changes turned a group of strangers into fast friends. Little did they know how important this would prove to be. As it is often said, “things happen for a reason.”
Us-air Finally, the six board the plane, taking the last six seats and separating them during the flight. The six find themselves not sitting next to old friends, but next to — what would be — their “new and lifelong friends.”
Things seemed pretty normal. Snow, delays but finally a take off. “One of the last things I noticed was Trump’s plane while he was on the runway,” Jorge remembers. Take off, the booming sound of something in the engines, a funny smell (cooked geese in the engines, Jorge supposes). “I heard the Captain yell prepare for impact. I just saw everyone else with their heads down and I just followed. It was a hard landing, luggage flying all over, people praying and darkness. I felt the water coming up over my ankles.”
What followed next was not ordinary, but extraordinary. 155 passengers got out of the plane in one piece, without injury to each other.
Us-air2 “I yelled and looked for my brother in law and I found him,” says Jorge. “And then there were the children. People yelling, get the children out. There were three kids on board that were separated from their parents that we instinctively knew we had to get them and their parents off the plane. Then started the craziness, people wanting to swim from the plane, pushing out the door, and jumping into the water. I just knew this was wrong. It was about 20 degrees out. All of a sudden someone yelled, stop, don’t jump and let’s get organized. A passenger on board suddenly took charge.”
“In my mind,” Jorge continues, “this was the turning point. It was all about leadership. Someone who was willing to take charge and make it happen. Preparing us to work together for our survival. Slowly and methodically we grabbed our seat cushions, it seemed like a smart thing until we realized how cold the water was, and we filed out of the plane. As we got out of the plane we realized that getting us off the plane was a lot harder than we thought. Ferry boats with huge wakes making it impossible to board, helicopters causing more havoc and most of us freezing. We pulled the ‘swimmers’ out of the water and shared our dry clothing. We knew it would be a long day.”
“Eventually help was on the way and there was a briefing from law enforcement: were we terrorists? Then a hotel, food, dry clothes and calls to/from our families. We no sooner got in touch with them and we were on national TV and everyone’s Twitter.”
Who are all of these 155 passengers? About 100 are now best friends forever. “Many of us call each other daily, we will be in each other’s lives forever,” says Jorge. “Lots of kind people. An investment banker friend of Nick Faldo said he was sure Nick would want to help, and soon enough we were invited to his golf course and got autographed photos. Of course we lost our clubs and Titleist called and invited us down to their manufacturing plant to fit us all for custom clubs.”
I also met Rob, Jorge’s uncle-in-law who was also on the flight. Another person with memories and thoughts about going forward. “Living life every day has never been more true,” says Rob.
Here’s what Jorge’s keeps in mind these days — for both life and business:

  • “How important life is, friends, family, even strangers.  If I didn’t know before of their importance, I really know now.”
  • “Working together, how important team work can be. It saved our lives and prevented serious injury.”
  • “Live each day with zest and excitement. Yes, it may be your last.”
  • “Prepare for your future with today in mind. Make each day count for something.”
  • “Everyone you meet and in your life matters—period.”
  • “Don’t be afraid to ‘just do it.’ Sometimes you don’t know if it’s right or wrong; you just have to put yourself out there.
  • “Give thanks daily, to those you love and make a difference. In a blink it can be over.”
  • “Live life as if it matters. It does.”
  • “Look for the humor in life. As we stood on the boat looking back at the plane, a fellow golfer  turned to me and said, ‘We can still drive [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][to Myrtle Beach], you know.'”

“Of course, we didn’t realize then that our golf clubs were in the Hudson!” Jorge says.
The group have since reunited for the golf outing, which took place in April. Photos here.
Thank you Jorge for sharing your memories and experience with us. If you haven’t seen it yet, this animated sequence shows what happened with Flight 1549 that day. The timing has been condensed so it’s more of a ‘fast-forward’ dramatization rather than a minute-by-minute one.

(photo at top: Jorge Morgado and Captain Chesley ‘Sully‘ Sullenberger)


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