Year After "Miracle on the Hudson," Fear Remains for Passengers

Capt. Sully planning to take part in reunion

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    NEWSLETTERS

    AP
    In this Thursday Jan. 15, 2009 file photo, airline passengers wait to be rescued on the wings of a US Airways Airbus 320 jetliner that safely ditched in the frigid waters of the Hudson River in New York, after a flock of birds knocked out both its engines.

    Months after the crash, Doreen Welsh had a panic attack when she inhaled a little water in the shower. Anastasia Sosa no longer finds swimming fun -- it feels too much like survival training. And Jorge Morgado can't bring himself to get back on a plane.

    A year after the 155 people aboard the crippled US Airways Flight 1549 survived a splash-landing on the frigid Hudson River, some are suffering the psychological aftereffects of their terrifying descent and harrowing evacuation.

    While many have spoken of a newfound appreciation for life and a focus on family, some also are struggling to regain their balance emotionally.

    "It was a real breaking point for me,'' said Sosa, who believed her husband and two young children would die with her.

    In what became known as the Miracle on the Hudson, Capt. Chesley "Sully'' Sullenberger deftly put his Airbus A320 down in the river on Jan. 15, 2009, after a collision with a flock of birds disabled the aircraft's engines.

    On Friday, the anniversary, Sullenberger and some of the survivors will take a boat out to the place where they were pulled soaked and freezing from the water, and at the moment of impact they will raise their glasses in a toast.

    Returning to the river won't be easy for Welsh. One of three flight attendants on Flight 1549, she remembers being seconds away from drowning as water gushed into the rear of the aircraft, reaching all the way to her chin.

    Even now, she is afraid of water. One day, six or seven months after the crash, she inhaled some water in the shower and had a full-scale panic attack, experiencing the evacuation again. She has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

    Her therapist has her doing shower exercises in which she takes increasing amounts of water into her mouth. When she takes a bubble bath, she practices putting her head under.

    She has returned, uneasily, to flying but not to work. She still hasn't decided whether to go back to her job. She has yet to wear her uniform, which was shredded and bloodied.

    One decision she has made: She won't be seeking cosmetic surgery to hide the prominent scar left on her leg from the gash she suffered that day.

    "When I look at it, it gives me that jolt to be grateful, and maybe I need that,'' said the Ambridge, Pa., woman. "It just brings me back to I'm just grateful I'm here and I'm happy I lived through all that.''

    Once an avid swimmer, the 41-year-old Sosa has stopped her near-daily trips to the pool. The East Hampton woman said swimming reminds her of carrying her baby son to safety, of looking back and seeing her husband chest-deep in the flooded cabin, hoisting their 4-year-old daughter above the rising water, of thinking they wouldn't make it out.

    Morgado has yet to get on a plane again.

    "I know once I get on, they close that door and you're strapped in your seat, you're in, you're not going anywhere. The flashbacks will still come,'' said the 33-year-old flooring company owner, who was on a golf trip when the plane went down. "What happened will always be there.''

    Still, he insisted, it's only a matter of time: "At one point I'm just going to suck it up and do it.''

    The father of three has set a deadline for himself. He and his wife are planning a family trip from their Chicopee, Mass., home to Walt Disney World 18 months from now.

    Many survivors, including Mark Hood, speak mostly about the positive outlook they gained from their brush with death. In the past year, the Charlotte, N.C., salesman has spoken to more than 50 church and civic groups about the experience.

    "There is really, really nothing in life to fear,'' he said. "I feel like every day is a bonus no matter how difficult the problems that are thrown at you or at me.''

    But even Hood, who said he had always been stoic and guarded before the crash, is sometimes surprised by the lingering effects. During his children's high school graduation party, the former Marine suddenly felt dizzy and had to put his hand against the wall to steady himself.

    "All I could think about was this entire party would be happening without me if things had turned out differently on the 15th,'' he said.

    The survivors of Flight 1549 have returned home to their families, and many have gone back to their jobs. Some participate in an e-mail group, sharing their progress and their thoughts. Two survivors, Laura Zych and Ben Bostic, have fallen in love.

    The group surprised some observers with what they have chosen not to do: No one on board the plane has sued the airline.

    "Amazing,'' said Justin Green, an attorney with Kreindler & Kreindler, a law firm that specializes in air disasters.

    Sheila Dail, another of the flight attendants, at first was embarrassed after experiencing a panic attack. Then the Asheville, N.C., woman decided to turn her anxiety into something positive: She got certified in crisis management and is training to help other flight attendants cope with trauma.

    Sosa, for her part, stays home more, nervous about driving. When she does get on the road, she is hypervigilant, ready in case something goes wrong. She did take a flight with her daughter, but the girl turned bright red from anxiety on the descent.

    Despite their fears, her family will return to the river to mark the anniversary because of the other survivors, who have been a source of support, she said.

    Welsh said she will be there, too, hoping to conquer her fears.

    "I'm sure I will not be standing anywhere on the edge,'' she said with a laugh. "I will be the person standing as far to the middle as you can get.''