10 years later, Beaver Co. flight attendant recalls life-altering ‘Miracle on Hudson’
Ten years later, Doreen Welsh still remembers the eerie quiet after the engines on US Airways Flight 1549 stopped running.
The plane had just taken off from New York City’s LaGuardia Airport on Jan. 15, 2009, when it struck a flock of Canada geese just northeast of the George Washington Bridge.
Welsh, a flight attendant onboard the flight, said she heard what sounded like an explosion two minutes after takeoff. The plane jolted. Seconds later, Capt. Chesley Burnett “Sully” Sullenberger announced “brace for impact.”
“It was eerie and terrifying,” Welsh told the Tribune-Review on Monday. “’Brace for impact’ means you’re crashing. I thought we were dead. We were floating along over Manhattan with no engines. When people are in a car accident, it just happens. No one says to them ‘in 90 seconds, you’re going to be in a car accident.’ But we had that, 90 seconds to think about it before it happened. That’s an awfully long time.”
These days, “90 Seconds to Impact” is the title of the speech that Welsh, of Economy in Beaver County, delivers at different events around the world. She’s been speaking professionally for the past eight-and-a-half years, since retiring from her job as a flight attendant. The flight became known as the “Miracle on the Hudson” after making a crash landing in the Hudson River in which all 150 passengers and five crew members survived.
Welsh sustained the most serious injury, a deep cut to her left leg, which required months of physical therapy and left a permanent scar. But it is the mental scars she still grapples with a decade later. The flight was her last as an airline employee.
“I had no idea what (post-traumatic stress disorder) was when people would talk about it, but, now, I have a severe case of it,” she says. “The only thing you can do is learn how to live with it, because there isn’t a cure. It’s changed me.”
Welsh used to be a “laid-back person,” but the hard landing on the Hudson left her nervous and lessened her ability to concentrate.
“I can no longer read and relax,” she said. “I used to love to read, but, now, I can’t relax enough to read. I used to do the USA (Today) crossword puzzle every day. I don’t have the patience for that any longer. Off and on, you fight bouts of depression from it. You just have to work your way through it.”
Welsh said it’s sometimes hard to believe that a full decade has passed since the event that, for better or worse, has come to define her life.
She will spend the 10th anniversary of the Miracle on the Hudson at the Carolinas Aviation Museum in Charlotte, where what is left of the plane is on display. At 3:31 p.m., the exact moment that the plane made its unpowered ditch into the river, there will be a champagne toast. All of the crew members will be there, including Sullenberger.
“What I give (Sullenberger) credit for was that split-second decision that he made to go into the river versus trying to continue on to Teterboro (Airport in New Jersey). I take my hat off to him for that,” Welsh said. “To make a decision that big, under pressure like that in a split-second, could not have been easy. That’s what I admire about him … that he made that quick decision, and the right one, obviously.”
In the past 10 years, Welsh has been a special guest of the NFL at Super Bowl XLIII, won by her favorite team, the Steelers. She attended a State of the Union address, has been honored at the Smithsonian Museum and met celebrities such as David Letterman and Jimmy Buffett. Yet, in spite of all the good things that have happened since the Miracle on the Hudson, Welsh maintains that she wishes the whole thing had never happened.
“I wouldn’t wish it on anyone,” she said.
Paul Guggenheimer is a freelance writer.
Paul Guggenheimer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul at 724-226-7706 or [email protected].