Volume 78 - Number 34 / January 21 - 27, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933
Villager photo by Lorcan Otway
U.S. Airways jet Flight 1549 on Sunday in Battery Park City after it was lifted onto a barge. The plane had floated with the current down to the location after its Thursday crash-landing in the Hudson.
Oh baby! Local family was on a wing and a prayer in plane crash
By Lincoln Anderson
Among the most gripping stories of the miraculous crash-landing of a passenger jet in the Hudson River last Thursday was of a young mother balancing on the plane’s submerged wing and clutching a baby, while passengers frantically screamed at her to “Throw the baby!”
She never did toss the tot, which was, instead, eventually handed to a responsible passenger on one of the downed plane’s flotation devices.
This week, the woman and her husband — who live on W. 14th St. in Greenwich Village — stood by her action, but raised some serious questions about how the plane was being operated, as well as the behavior of some of the plane’s first-class passengers, who seemed to forget the saying “women and children first.”
On Monday evening, Martin Sosa and his wife, Tess, were safely at home in their apartment with their two young children — Damian, 9 months, and Sofia, 4 — trying to decompress from the nightmarish ordeal just four days earlier. Groceries were being delivered and cartoons could be heard playing on the TV when The Villager spoke by phone to Martin Sosa.
They had already appeared on “Today,” and the intense media exposure was starting to wear on them.
Now they were just trying to deal with the loss of their belongings, including luggage, baby strollers, baby seats, coats, shoes.
Nearly perishing in a plane crash had left them with a feeling he said he couldn’t really describe.
“We’re trying to get our lives together,” he explained. “We’re traumatized. You’re not the same person. You’re kind of half-dead. You’re desensitized. We’re going to try to get some assistance — some therapy.” They also plan to speak to their priest.
Born in Argentina, Sosa, an architect, grew up in Queens and attended Parsons School of Design. They have lived on W. 14th St. for the past eight years. They had been flying to Charlotte, N.C., to visit Tess’s mother, who was undergoing surgery.
Just a few minuets after takeoff, Sosa said, “The engines went dead, and we were just gliding. There was smoke and the smell of jet fuel was obvious. The next thing we know, we’re banking left, and we see Manhattan.”
Then Sosa heard the warning from the plane’s captain, Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, “Brace for impact.”
Heightening their anxiety, Sosa and his wife were seated apart, with Martin in row 23, about five rows behind his wife and five rows from the rear of the plane. Sofia was seated next to her dad while Tess held baby Damian.
“We always sit together,” Sosa said.
The impact when they hit was “horrific,” he said. “You just felt the whole plane was going to rip apart. It was very powerful and violent. The sound was like a sonic boom — just really, really loud.”
Right before the splash-down, Tess had quickly thought to hand her baby to the man sitting next to her, figuring he would be able to hold onto and protect the child better during the watery collision. Otherwise, Sosa said, the boy probably would have gone hurtling out of his mother’s arms.
After they struck the river, water quickly started filling the plane. Asked if the passengers stayed calm and orderly as they evacuated, Sosa said, “Yes and no — someone described it as mice: The real agile mice were able to scramble over the seats. I didn’t grab my seat [cushion]. I lost my glasses, phones. I just grabbed my daughter and got out.”
Sosa, his daughter and his wife, now once again holding Damian, found themselves standing with about 20 others on the plane’s right wing, their legs plunged in the icy Hudson. Meanwhile, downriver from them, first-class passengers were floating high and dry in inflatable “rafts” that had deployed from the plane.
“These guys in suits were the first guys in the rafts,” Sosa said bitterly. “The Wall St. guys — they’re all full of s—t. I mean, I was in the water for 20 minutes. I couldn’t move my legs. My hands were blue.
“I was yelling, ‘Whatever happened to women and children first?’… We were the only family on the flight.”
Passengers, in general, and one man, in particular, started shouting for Tess to pitch the infant into one of the rafts.
“People were like, ‘Throw the baby!’ and we were like, ‘We’re not going to throw the baby and have it fall in the river!’” Sosa said. “I mean, we just had a plane crash. All we had to do was pull the raft closer. There was no need to throw the baby.”
Two commuter ferries had quickly responded to the downed plane, but both had initial difficulties in rescuing the passengers, and it took about 20 minutes before the boats started taking on people. Sosa said one ferry, with a crew of about 12, was “too high,” and so went around to the plane’s other side, while the other boat only had two crewmembers aboard and was having trouble lowering a rope ladder.
At one point, Sosa fell off the wing into the river. With his legs completely numb, he said he wasn’t sure he’d have been able to make it back up on his own — much less swim anywhere — but fortunately another passenger grabbed his hand and pulled him up.
He was among the last people rescued from the right wing; he ended up having to swim about 5 yards to one of the boats.
“In the aftermath of the glorification of the pilot, there’s a lot of questions I want to have answered,” Sosa said on Monday. For one, he asked, why was the co-pilot — who only had slightly more than 30 hours experience flying that type of Airbus plane — at the controls during the critical moments of the takeoff? Also, Martin wondered, why didn’t the alleged flock of geese show up on an air-control radar?
“I don’t know, something got screwed up,” he said.
On the other hand, there were some lucky factors that probably helped them survive, he noted: The river wasn’t covered with ice; if it had been one or two hours later, it would have been dark; and the current was flowing downriver at about 20 miles per hour, rather than upriver.
Sosa said he’s not going to fly “anytime soon.”
“Right now,” he said, “I don’t think I can even get on a train.”