In Case You Missed It
Boulderganic Fall 2009
Student Guide 2009
Boulder Weekly Sweet 16 Anniversary
Summer Scene 2009
Best of Boulder 2009
Annual Manual 2009
Newspaper of the Future
Kids Camp Guide 2009
Wedding Marketplace 09
Student Guide 2008
Best of Boulder 2008
Annual Manual 2008
Join Our Mailing List
|February 12-18, 2009
Life after the Hudson
Some plane crash survivors reach out to each other
to form network of support
by Christopher D. Kirkpatrick
When Steve met Pam, they were floundering in the icy Hudson River next to their hulking jet that had just crashed after takeoff. He worried the plane would explode. What should we do? Pam asked, splashing and grabbing for Steve. He pointed toward the Manhattan skyline.
But a rescue came quickly: A raft. A ferry. A hospital. Then, goodbye.
In the days that followed, as the 155 passengers aboard Flight 1549 set about resuming their lives, Steve found comfort from his wife and two young kids. Still, he kept thinking about Pam.
Was she OK? What did she remember? Was there a slide? Why did they jump in the water?
He’d left his river-soaked business card with her at the hospital: Steve O’Brien, accounting executive.
But he didn’t get her contact information, and never asked her last name. He needed to find her, to talk, to fill in the gaps.
The two shared what likely will be the most harrowing moments of their lives. Like so many other passengers, Steve, 44, grew anxious to reconnect. Yes, he was grateful to be alive. Yet Pam was the one person who really knew what he’d gone through.
Days after coming home, Steve started to search for her, combing through news accounts. All he knew was that Pam worked for Bank of America.
US Airways wasn’t much help. Officials won’t release a list of passengers of Flight 1549, since no one died in the Jan. 15 crash. But dozens have managed to find each other, and they’re beginning to form a fragile network of support through e-mail, phone calls and reunions.
They speak of bad dreams, of reliving those moments as they go about their day. They hear the captain: “Brace for impact.”
Someone started a Facebook page that invites survivors to share their stories.
Eight passengers came together last Thursday for an appearance on Ellen DeGeneres’ show. They laughed and danced on stage, gleeful at being alive to tell the tale. One tossed a paper airplane.
Reconnecting with those who shared a traumatic experience can speed healing, experts say. It helps people see that others, too, are experiencing a wild range of emotions, from anxiety over the vivid images in their minds, to the elation of knowing their lives were spared.
“There’s something wonderful and affirming about this, for people to attach to each other,” says psychiatrist Frank Ochberg, who started a trauma resource center for victims of stress disorders.
For Steve, finding Pam would help him make sense of what happened.
Josh Peltz wanted so badly to connect, he started an e-mail chain with several survivors.
In the days since the crash, he has yearned to share his memories and anxieties with others who were there.
He’s been pacing the hallway when his wife leaves their Charlotte home.
He calls her while she’s out, asking when she’ll be home. He doesn’t like to be alone.
Peltz stays in touch with his e-mail group. “I honestly believe I will be friends with these people forever, and if they ever need anything, I will be there.”
He and others exchanged contact information as they were rescued from the water and wings of the stricken aircraft and thrown together at a senior center in Weehawken, N.J.
He doesn’t want to divulge details of the group’s e-mail exchanges, but he says most report trouble sleeping at night and jumpiness during the day. They also share practical information about counselors, lawyers and their interactions with US Airways.
They are making plans to meet for dinner and inviting one another to their homes in Charlotte and elsewhere.
Peltz has already met one survivor, Paul Jorgensen, for lunch.
Steve O’Brien heard about the group last week and hoped to join. It would help him to talk — and might help him find Pam.
Steve wished he’d asked for her contact information, as Paul had done in Weehawken.
“I talked to my wife, a bunch of my friends, easily 200 times — my sister, mom and dad. But I’ve been through this with the people on the plane, and they’re the only ones who can truly understand,” says Paul, a 38-year-old medical software salesman.
Survivors of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks formed similar communities, as have war veterans, crime victims and the families of those who’ve lost loved ones.
“When you find healthy affiliation together, that’s usually quite a plus,” says psychiatrist Ochberg.
Because all survived, he says, the passengers aren’t likely to develop long-term stress disorders.
But Ochberg believes some will likely become too afraid to fly, or develop other phobias. “But that can be eased with professional help.
It’s really quite an act of faith to ride in an airplane.”
Some who survive near-death experiences talk of being horrified and traumatized, experts say. For some, everyday life feels surreal.
Others are dominated by a new sense of vitality. Food tastes better. Family and friends mean more than ever. So do those who nearly died with you.
Steve kept hoping Pam could help him remember details.
As the plane started descending, he thought about his garage and the driveway where he plays with his children, ages 10 and 8.
He remembers folding his 6-foot-3 frame into an unwieldy crash position.
He saw his BlackBerry in the seat pocket but decided not to call home.
He didn’t want a voice mail just before death to be the last thing his family would hear from him.
“We just kept getting lower and lower. People were saying that we were over the river. We’re going down.”
Then, a perfect moment of stillness. The cabin looked beautiful.
“There was this micro, nanosecond of calm and peace. It was a gray ... a type of twilight,” he says. “That was the presence of God.”
Then: “The flight attendant was just screaming, ‘Grab a seat cushion.’ There was hesitation in the line.”
He made his way toward the left wing exit. “I saw this beautiful brown water out there and the sky. I knew I was going to go into the water. I had passed the hard part.”
He looked down and saw a woman floundering in the river. He jumped.
In the frigid water, they clung to seat cushions.
“We have to go that way, toward Manhattan,” he told her.
As they kicked, they heard shouts.
“Over here. Over here.”
He saw an old man, and a young guy, too, in the water nearby. Then, he saw a raft — and knew to go that way.
Survivors pulled Steve and Pam and others into the raft.
He remembers asking someone on the raft: “Is this a dream?”
On Thursday, Steve e-mailed a friend at Bank of America. I’m trying to find a woman who was on the plane with me, can you help?
Sitting at the Division of Motor Vehicles office, waiting to get a new license, Pam Seagle saw an e-mail on her BlackBerry:
Do you know a guy named Steve? He wants to talk to you.
Soon, the two were reunited on the phone.
Pam still had his business card but hadn’t called, fearing she might intrude. A 45-minute conversation led to a plan to meet for coffee
Friday. They hugged inside the Starbucks at StoneCrest.
Pam brought along Brian Siegel, a co-worker who was also on the plane.
As customers worked on computers and poured cream and sugar in their coffee, the three survivors talked about living through a plane crash. They peppered each other with questions. Compared what they remembered.
Anxiety sometimes washes over him, Steve told them. He’s startled by his cell phone ring at times.
Pam says she was rattled when her car hit a small bump.
They discussed fate and how they ended up on that plane together.
Pam couldn’t help Steve answer whether there was a slide. But they’re starting to piece together why they jumped instead of waiting on the wing.
Talking with Pam helped Steve realize the two of them were among the first to get out on their side of the plane. He’s beginning to reconstruct the mad dash.
“There was this five-second window. It was just ‘go, go, go!’ “ Steve said. That’s when Pam jumped.
Steve saw her, and jumping just seemed the best way to escape.
“In these crazy moments, you still want to look to another human being,” he said.
“It was someone I could swim to.”
Pam’s co-worker, Brian, told them he thought he was lucky when he got a seat on the flight as a standby passenger. He was thrilled to be headed home early to his wife and 7-week-old daughter.
The trio smiled as they noted how US Airways refers to the crash in letters as an “emergency landing.”
Pam said she had lost 6 pounds since the crash.
Steve said he dropped 10.
Brian said he eats when feeling stressed and had put on weight.
They talked about whether they should return the clothes they got from workers and commuters on the ferries.
The three agreed it was good to see each other — and vowed to stay in touch.
“People think you don’t want to talk,” says Brian Siegel.
“But ... I want to tell you all about it.”
back to top