A plane landed in New York city today. The pilot chose the Hudson River as his landing strip. He believes that birds flew into his engines, thus disabling his aircraft. There were 155 people on board this plane, including the crew.
As I write this piece at 9:49 p.m., the day of the crash, millions of people throughout the world have seen images of the plane miraculously afloat in the river with everybody escaping from this near tragedy alive and mostly without injury.
I am a native New Yorker. I have lived in other great cities, such as Paris, London and San Francisco, but it is in New York where I feel the most comfort. To those who are not familiar with this city — the Hudson River is a very narrow body of water. On each side of the river, which is perhaps a mile wide, are skyscrapers of every shape and size with millions of people inhabiting these goliaths, as well as additional thousands on the streets.
The pilot had a choice when he understood a few minutes after takeoff that both his engines had been compromised. He could turn the plane back to the airport from whence he came. He quickly calculated that he may just have enough glide time to do so, but then again, may not. He could continue to a smaller airport further west in New Jersey or bank a left turn and literally glide to a landing on the Hudson River at a point where he knew his plane would have access to early responders due to the traffic on that river. He decided instantaneously to make that left turn and try for the water landing, which he did masterfully. As you may know by now, New York, as much of the rest of the country, was in the throes of its coldest temperatures in many years. Thankfully, the river had not yet begun to freeze. Taking this airplane down the river over the George Washington Bridge was the equivalent of threading a needle with several added components. You know that once you put the thread through the eye of a needle, it will come out the other side intact. The pilot had no such assurance for his plane. One minor calculation would romance tragedy.
Everyone is alive and well. So this is what I need to say. On the day when President Bush says farewell to the nation without one hint of apology for leaving a country (a world) in economic ruin, its reputation in tatters, its moral standing in the world destroyed, we as a people experience the miracle on the Hudson River. On the day that President Bush says bye-bye while touting his accomplishments and his ability to make “tough” decisions, as if that alone is commendable, never asking whether his decisions were the right decisions, we see before us the very metaphor of where we are as a nation, species, as a planet.
We have crashed. We have a pilot who must make choices as to where to land our collective lives. I trust this pilot. Just as the pilot of the airplane, Captain Sullenberger, made the right choice, we as a nation have also made the right choice. We have decided not to go back or to try to arrive at an impossible destination. We know we have no more glide time. We may be freezing, in shock, drenched with stress and fear, but we have made the right choice and we are landing where our vessel will float, allowing us to survive and move forward. We have embarked on our journey with our new President in a frigid climate and the Hudson River has yielded our first miracle.
Jack Schimmelman lives in Levittown, N.Y, and contributes occasionally to the Gazette.