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Plane passenger: 'It's great to be alive today'

The parents of a 3-year-old girl and a 9-month-old boy marvelled Friday about the fact they survived the crash-landing of their US Airways flight.
/ Source: staff and news service reports

The parents of a 3-year-old girl and a 9-month-old boy marveled Friday about the fact they survived the crash-landing of their US Airways flight.

"It's great to be alive today. It's hard to believe we just survived that," the father, Martin Sosa, told NBC's "Today."

That sentiment was echoed by a number of passengers on the US Airways flight, amazed to be alive after the jet ditched in the water following an apparent collision with a flock of birds.

"You've got to give it to the pilot," said Jeff Kolodjay of Norwalk, Connecticut. "He made a hell of a landing."

For fellow passenger Vallie Collins, the most terrifying moment came when she was caught in the back galley of the plane — water seeping in from exits that would open only a crack, and dozens of passengers bearing down on her, frantic to get out.

"Trying as hard as we could to push both of those doors," Collins said, recounting the moments after Flight 1549 touched down on the Hudson River on Thursday. "And the flight attendant said: `We probably only have two minutes.'"

Just seconds before, Collins had been convinced she would die on impact. Now, with the frigid river water swirling around her waist and seat cushions floating between the passengers, she believed she was going to drown.

But there was daylight ahead, toward the front of the plane, and Collins, a 37-year-old mother of three from Maryville, Tennessee, drew on her memories of being a high school cheerleader.

"I put my hands up and said: "You can't get out this way. ... Go to the wings! Keep moving, people! We're going to make it. Stay calm."

It was only when she was safe aboard a rescue ferry that she felt her panic — and gratitude. "We were just very fortunate. Very blessed," Collins said.

'Brace for impact'
Soon after the plane took off from LaGuardia Airport for Charlotte, North Carolina, Collins — seated in the last row, in 26D — heard a boom and started smelling smoke. When the captain came over the loudspeaker and said "brace for impact," she immediately reached for her phone.

"I thought, `OK, I'm not going to see my husband and three children again.' And I just want them to know at this point, they were the No. 1 thought in my mind," she said hours after the ordeal.

She sent them a text message: "My plane is crashing." There was no time for the final three words she wanted to include: "I love you."

Dave Sanderson, 47, of Charlotte, who works for Oracle Corp., was headed home after a business trip. The married father of four was in seat 15A, on the left side of the plane.

"I heard an explosion, and I saw flames coming from the left wing and I thought, `This isn't good,'" he said. "Then it was just controlled chaos. People started running up the aisle. People were getting shoved out of the way."

Kolodjay, 31, who had been headed to a golfing trip in Myrtle Beach, S.C., said he noticed a jolt and felt the plane drop. He looked out the left side of the jet and saw one of the engines on fire.

"Then the captain said, `Brace for impact because we're going down,'" Kolodjay said. "It was intense." He said some passengers started praying. He said a few Hail Marys.

'She was so scared'
"It was bad, man," Kolodjay said. But he and others spoke of a sense of calm and purpose that quickly descended on the passengers and crew as the plane started filling with water and rescue boats swarmed to the scene. They decided women and children would be evacuated first.

"Then the rest of us got out," he said.

One woman had two small children who couldn't swim. She held on to the infant, and Collins, aboard an emergency raft, grabbed hold of the older girl, who was not yet 3.

"She was so scared. She had a little blue blanket, and she just was hunkered in my lap," Collins said. "She just kept biting on my left arm — she never said a word." The group was pulled aboard a rescue vessel.

Emergency medical service worker Helen Rodriguez was one of the first rescuers on the scene. She saw stunned, soaking passengers, saying "I can't believe I'm alive." The worst injury she saw was a woman with two broken legs.

Paramedics treated at least 78 patients, many for hypothermia, bruises and other minor injuries, fire officials said.

Police scuba divers arrived at the scene to see a woman in her late 30s or early 40s in the water, hanging onto the side of a ferry boat.

She was "frightened out of her mind," suffering from hypothermia and unable to climb out of the water, said Detective Robert Rodriguez of the New York Police Department.

The detectives swam with her to another ferry and hoisted her aboard. As they were wrapping that up, another woman, who was on a rescue raft, fell off. So they put her on a Coast Guard boat.

About 70 passengers were taken to the New Jersey side of the river.

Some looked "smiling and happy to be alive." Others were "a little stunned," said Jeff Welz, director of public safety for the city of Weehawken. "I'm looking at them and saying, `I don't know if I'd look good if I went through what they went through.'"