Thursday, January 15, 2009

Flight 1549

What a story: on an otherwise inconspicuous January afternoon, a plane takes off from LaGuardia en route to Charlotte. Somewhere above the City of New York, something happens, a "bird strike." Moments later the plane is sinking into the sky above the Hudson, and then, with one hell of a splash, this jet is in the water, nose up, tail down. As commuter ferries and rescue boats dart towards the airliner, shaken passengers emerge to wait on the submerged wings, seemingly standing on water. One hundred and fifty five people exit the fallen plane, women and children first, and everyone is okay -- as okay as one can be. At first the tail of the jet juts upwards from the water, like some bizarre shark fin; as the afternoon progresses and the rear half of the plane begins its inevitable descent, only the nose of the plane is visible, peeking over the surface of the water. I thought it looked like a puppy, plaintive, out of place.

There is something jarring about seeing a jet plane in your local river. What was I doing while a smart and brave pilot was saving lives? What was I doing while scared and sensible people rescued themselves? I was reading the internet and waiting for work, wholly unaware of the drama playing itself out a mile or so away.

Beyond a sense of awe and gratitude, this incident raises questions: Are they going to pull the jet out of the river? I already have a vision of a sunken, moldy plane housing scores of fish and crabs and plant life. Will everybody get their luggage back? Who knew that bird strikes were a regular (and somewhat inevitable) threat to air travel? And, given that this plane was flying the route my sister takes to visit us, will she ever dare fly to New York City again? ("One bird strike and you're out.")

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