US Airways Flight 1549 passengers return to thank responders

This article originally appeard on NorthJersey.com image

Photo by Carmine Galasso/Photo caption: Dave Sanderson, left, and Barry Leonard returned to Palisades Medical Center, where they were treated after their flight crashed into the Hudson River. Watch the video

By KAREN SUDOL

NORTH BERGEN — When passenger Barry Leonard jumped off a US Airways plane that had plunged into the frigid Hudson River in January, his first thought was, “swim to shore.”

But Leonard, one of the first passengers to exit, realized he couldn’t make it and swam back toward a life raft. He and others from Flight 1549 were then rescued by a ferry boat and taken ashore for medical assistance.

Wanting to praise the efforts of the emergency responders and medical personnel who rescued and treated passengers and crew, Leonard and passenger Dave Sanderson hosted a “thank you” luncheon Thursday at Palisades Medical Center.

“I was just really lucky,” said Leonard, 56, of Charlotte, N.C., who suffered a fractured sternum and hypothermia. “We all were.”

“I’m really bonded to Palisades [Medical Center] and the first responders … because I didn’t know how bad I was until I got here,” Sanderson said. “You don’t realize how lucky you are to have people take care of you like this.”

Just minutes after taking off from La Guardia Airport on Jan. 15, the airliner bound for Charlotte lost power in both engines when it struck geese.

Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger gained national acclaim for his skillful landing after gently gliding the plane into the river. All 155 aboard survived.

But it was the 75 to 100 responders from agencies such as the North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue, NY Waterway and the American Red Cross who the two men wanted to honor on Tuesday.

Sanderson, of Charlotte, suffered severe hypothermia when he stood in the frigid water helping passengers transfer from the plane to a raft.

He recalled being in the river, then swimming to and getting on a ferry. When he reached land, he had to be carried to the triage area because he said he was having trouble walking because he was freezing.

“They saved my life,” said 48-year-old Sanderson, who met Leonard when both were patients in the hospital.

Before the luncheon, a heartfelt reunion occurred between Sanderson, Leonard and the hospital nurses and doctors as many exchanged hugs at the hospital’s outdoor patio on the waterfront, which was less than one mile from where the water landing was made.

“It’s great to see him and good to see he’s recovered well,” said Pat Crinion, a registered nurse who treated Leonard.

Heather Bailey, of the North Bergen EMS, said Sanderson recognized her as one the responders who helped wrap him in blankets when he was brought to the triage area.

“They’re lucky,” she said. “All of them are really really lucky. It really is a miracle.”

Jeff Welz, Weehawken’s public safety director and director of the North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue, said he was thankful for the honor the two passengers bestowed on the responders Tuesday.

Said Welz: “Although it’s something we do every day, everyone likes a pat on the back, and this is our day to get a pat on the back.”

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