Sunday, January 25, 2009

Every Day Is A Great Day Now - The 4 Lessons

So here you have it

A first hand account of flight #1549
"Every day is a great day now."
As many of you now know, Gerry McNamara (New York/Charlotte) was on US> Airways Flight 1549 last week. We caught up with him to discuss the> harrowing incident and - in a departure from our usual format - present> his stirring account as told to us:
Thursday was a difficult day for all of us at the firm and I left the> Park Avenue office early afternoon to catch a cab bound for LaGuardia> Airport. > > I was scheduled for a 5pm departure, but able to secure a seat on the> earlier flight scheduled to leave at 3PM. As many of us who fly> frequently often do, I recall wondering if I'd just placed myself on a> flight I shouldn't be on!
Just prior to boarding I finished up a conference call with my> associate, Jenn Sparks (New York), and our placement, the CIO of United> Airlines. When I told him that I was about to board a US Airways flight,> we all had a little fun with it. > > I remember walking on the plane and seeing a fellow with grey hair in> the cockpit and thinking "that's a good thing... I like to see grey hair> in the cockpit!"
I was seated in 8F, on the starboard side window and next to a young> business man. The New York to Charlotte flight is one I've taken what> seems like hundreds of times over the years. We take off north over the> Bronx and as we climb, turn west over the Hudson River to New Jersey and> tack south. I love to fly, always have, and this flight plan gives a> great view of several NY landmarks including Yankee Stadium and the> George Washington Bridge.
I had started to point out items of interest to the gentleman next to me> when we heard a terrible crash - a sound no one ever wants to hear while> flying - and then the engines wound down to a screeching halt. 10> seconds later, there was a strong smell of jet fuel. I knew we would be> landing and thought the pilot would take us down no doubt to Newark> Airport. As we began to turn south I noticed the pilot lining up on the> river still - I thought - en route for Newark. >
Next thing we heard was "Brace for impact!" - a phrase I had heard many> years before as an active duty Marine Officer but never before on a> commercial air flight. Click for more...
Everyone looked at each other in shock. It all happened so fast we were> astonished! > > We began to descend rapidly and it started to sink in. This is the last> flight. I'm going to die today. This is it. I recited my favorite bible> verse, the Lord's Prayer, and asked God to take care of my wife,> children, family and friends.
When I raised my head I noticed people texting their friends and> family....getting off a last message. My blackberry was turned off and> in my trouser time to get at it. Our descent continued and I> prayed for courage to control my fear and help if able. > > I quickly realized that one of two things was going to happen, neither> of them good. We could hit by the nose, flip and break up, leaving few> if any survivors, bodies, cold water, fuel. Or we could hit one of the> wings and roll and flip with the same result. I tightened my seat belt> as tight as I could possibly get it so I would remain intact.
As we came in for the landing, I looked out the windows and remember> seeing the buildings in New Jersey, the cliffs in Weehawken, and then> the piers. The water was dark green and sure to be freezing cold. The> stewardesses were yelling in unison "Brace! Brace! Brace!"
It was a violent hit - the water flew up over my window - but we bobbed> up and were all amazed that we remained intact.
There was some panic - people jumping over seats and running towards the> doors, but we soon got everyone straightened out and calmed down. There> were a lot of people that took leadership roles in little ways. Those> sitting at the doors over the wing did a fantastic job...they were> opened in a New York second! Everyone worked together - teamed up and in> groups to figure out how to help each other.> > I exited on the starboard side of the plane, 3 or 4 rows behind my seat> through a door over the wing and was, I believe, the 10th or 12th person> out. I took my seat cushion as a flotation device and once outside saw I> was the only one who did....none of us remembered to take the yellow> inflatable life vests from under the seat.
We were standing in 6-8 inches of water and it was freezing. There were> two women on the wing, one of whom slipped off into the water. Another> passenger and I pulled her back on and had her kneel down to keep from> falling off again. By that point we were totally soaked and absolutely> frozen from the icy wind.
The ferries were the first to arrive, and although they're not made for> rescue, they did an incredible job. I know this river, having swum in it> as a boy. The Hudson is an estuary - part salt and part fresh water -> and moves with the tide. I could tell the tide was moving out because we> were tacking slowly south towards Ellis Island, The Statue of Liberty,> and The Battery.
The first ferry boat pulled its bow up to the tip of the wing, and the> first mate lowered the Jacobs ladder down to us. We got a couple people> up the ladder to safety, but the current was strong pushing the stern of> the boat into the inflatable slide and we were afraid it would puncture> it...there must have been 25 passengers in it by now. Only two or three> were able to board the first ferry before it moved away.
Another ferry came up, and we were able to get the woman that had fallen> into the water on the ladder, but she just couldn't move her legs and> fell off. Back onto the ladder she went; however, the ferry had to back> away because of the swift current. A helicopter arrived on station> (nearly blowing us all off the wing) and followed the ferry with the> woman on the ladder. We lost view of the situation but I believe the> helicopter lowered its basket to rescue her.
As more ferries arrived, we were able to get people up on the boats a> few at a time. The fellow in front of me fell off the ladder and into> the water. When we got him back on the ladder he could not move his legs> to climb. I couldn't help him from my position so I climbed up the> ladder to the ferry deck where the first mate and I hoisted the Jacobs> ladder with him on it...when he got close enough we grabbed his trouser> belt and hauled him on deck. We were all safely off the wing.
We could not stop shaking. Uncontrollable shaking. The only thing I had> with me was my blackberry, which had gotten wet and was not working. (It> started working again a few hours later).
The ferry took us to the Weehawken Terminal in NJ where I borrowed a> phone and called my wife to let her know I was okay. The second call I> made was to Jenn. I knew she would be worried about me and could> communicate to the rest of the firm that I was fine. At the terminal,> first responders assessed everyone's condition and sent people to the> hospital as needed. As we pulled out of Weehawken my history kicked in> and I recall it was the site of the famous duel between Alexander> Hamilton and Aaron Burr in 1804. Thankfully I left town in better> condition than Mr. Hamilton who died of a mortal wound the next day! I> stayed with my sister on Long Island that evening, then flew home the> next day.
I am struck by what was truly a miracle. Had this happened a few hours> later, it would have been pitch dark and much harder to land. Ferries> would no longer have been running after rush hour and it would not have> been the same uplifting story. Surely there would have been fatalities,> hypothermia, an absolute disaster!
I witnessed the best of humanity that day. I and everyone on that plane> survived and have been given a second chance. It struck me that in our> work we continuously seek excellence to solve our client's leadership> problems. We talk to clients all the time about the importance of> experience and the ability to execute. Experience showed up big time on> Flight 1549 as our pilot was a dedicated, trained, experienced> professional who executed flawlessly when he had to.
I have received scores of emails from across the firm and I am so> grateful for the outpouring of interest and concern. We all fly a great> deal or work with someone who does and so I wanted to share this story -> the story of a miracle. I am thankful to be here to tell the tale.
There is a great deal to be learned including: Why has this happened to> me? Why have I survived and what am I supposed to do with this gift? For> me, the answers to these questions and more will come over time, but> already I find myself being more patient and forgiving, less critical> and judgmental. > >
For now I have 4 lessons I would like to share:
1. Cherish your families as never before and go to great lengths to> keep your promises.>
2. Be thankful and grateful for everything you have and don't worry> about the things you don't have.>
3. Keep in shape. You never know when you'll be called upon to save> your own life, or help someone else save theirs.>
4. When you fly, wear practical clothing. You never know when> you'll end up in an emergency or on an icy wing in flip flops and> pajamas and of absolutely no use to yourself or anyone else.

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