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Miracle near 34th Street

Sometimes a sense of awe is lacking nowadays in society. The story of U.S. Airways Flight 1549 is awesome.

In our calloused, high-tech, nothing-surprises-us society, miracles are often considered spiritual artifacts from the ancient world.

You just don’t see the Red Sea part anymore.

Or do you?

People don’t walk on water anymore. Until we saw them on the Hudson River the other day.

Imagine you were a passenger on U.S. Airways Flight 1549 traveling from New York’s LaGuardia Airport to Charlotte, N.C., last Thursday.

Here are some of the things that had to happen for you to survive after both jet engines were disabled by a flock of birds:

  • It just so happened that the captain of that aircraft, C.B. “Sully” Sullenberger, was not only a veteran pilot but one of the nation’s most respected experts, teachers and practitioners of airline safety.
  • Sullenberger was also a certified glider pilot, and celebration or tragedy depended on his ability to glide.
  • When the aircraft lost power, Sullenberger had to make an instant decision about what to do ”and he was flying over Manhattan.
  • The incident occurred after takeoff. The passengers were all in their seatbelts. No one was wandering in the cabin.
  • He decided to land on the Hudson River. Airline pilots train for water landings, but that’s in a simulator. No one practices landing an airbus along the major rivers of the United States. Sullenberger had one shot to get it right in a life-or-death situation.
  • During the descent, with limited control of his aircraft, he had to avoid the George Washington Bridge.
  • The waters of the Hudson River were icy but calm, which formed more of a concrete-like runway.
  • Sullenberger made the type of landing that would elevate you a couple of levels in a video game. Some frequent fliers later recounted it was one of the smoothest landings they had ever had.
  • The gradual descent and perfect landing kept the fuselage from tearing apart (which would have pretty much guaranteed a horrific tragedy) and the wings upright (which were transformed into piers for passengers to gather to be rescued).
  • The accident happened as the rush hour was developing in New York. That meant that the ferry boats were already on the water in full force with plenty of support, and there was plenty of activity and personnel along the docks.
  • One of the fastest rescue boats in the New York firefighters’ fleet was nearby and in operation with one of its best crews, who had just completed a rescue training exercise.
  • After Sept. 11, New York’s uniformed officers and emergency services are probably among the best in the world in coordinating efforts and services to victims of a potential tragedy. Seemingly everyone knew what to do.
  • All 155 passengers and crew on Flight 1549 were saved, and no one sustained what medical personnel would rate a serious injury. Aircraft passengers ranged in age from 9 months to 85 years.

We don’t know what the passengers on that plane knew about Capt. Sullenberger. But for a few fateful seconds, he was Moses.

But even when the plane successfully landed on water, everyone had to be rescued. Swimming to safety in the icy Hudson in 11-degree temperatures was not an option.

What many witnessed firsthand or on their TV screens was the New Testament concept of community, where people of all walks of life come together with skills and courage to get things done that could not have been accomplished through isolated, independent effort.

In those moments when salvation teetered in the balance, people were not worried about portfolios or the economy or whether the operator of a ferry boat was named Mohammed or Bob. It was another real-life application of the Good Samaritan story and “love thy neighbor.”

In Acts, we are told when people came together in community, “Awe came upon everyone because many wonders and signs were being done …”

Sometimes a sense of awe is lacking nowadays in society. The story of U.S. Airways Flight 1549 is awesome.

David McCollum is a contributing editor to Ethicsdaily.com.