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Interview with Crew and Passengers of US Airways Flight 1549

Aired February 11, 2009 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, passengers of "The Miracle on the Hudson" meet the crew. They thought they were going to die.


And as I saw the water coming in closer and closer, so I just kind of accepted the fact that I was going to die.


KING: But a handful of people couldn't or wouldn't let it happen. And now the reunion for the first time in person...


Can I give you a hug?

Oh, of course.


KING: They say thank you for safely ditching their jet in the river, for keeping families together, for saving moms and dads and children.


On behalf of my wife and daughter and myself, thank you very much. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

On behalf of my wife and daughter and myself, thank you very much.


KING: All 155 people on board and Captain Sully has his own heroes. Meet them, too -- the rescuers on the water.


I had got the passengers to the surface. The flight attendants got them out and you saved them.


KING: They risked their lives to help the desperate victims. It's a reunion to remember. It's next on LARRY KING LIVE. Good evening.

Tonight, joining us for another special hour, the captain and crew of U.S.

Airways flight 1549. You will hear from several of the passengers tonight and the rescue workers who dragged them to safety. They're excited about seeing each other. And they will shortly.

And, by the way, later we'll meet some of the passengers joining us live from Charlotte, North Carolina.

Captain Sully Sullenberger, First Officer Jeffrey Skiles, Flight Attendant Sheila Dail, Flight Attendant Doreen Welsh and Flight Attendant Donna Dent all return.

By the way, do you enjoy the -- Captain, did you enjoy this?

Because it was so hard to get you at first.


We have a story to tell that I think some good will come from. And I feel like I've been chosen by circumstance to temporarily represent members of my profession. And I'm determined to do the best job I can.

And I want to recognize my crew. It was a team effort. Without the efforts of all of them, it wouldn't have been possible. And, of course, without the first responders, it would not have been possible.

KING: Before we get to the first responders and passengers, we want to remind our viewers of the harrowing moments on US Airways Flight 1549.

Here's the story in Captain "Sully's" own words.


SULLENBERGER: It was a good day. The weather in New York cleared. The airplane was in great shape and we were all set to go.

Cactus 1549, 700 climbing to 5,000.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cactus 1529, your departure to contact fine. Maintain 1-5,000.

SULLENBERGER: Maintain 5-1,500, Cactus 1549.

I said to Jeff, "Birds" and then a second later they struck the airplane.

There were many large birds that struck all over the airplane, pelted us like hail and severely damaged both engines. The thrust has been lost suddenly on both engines and my initial focus was to lower the nose to maintain a safe flying speed, to maintain control of the airplane while we were assessing the situation and coming up with a plan.

This is Cactus 1549. We hit birds. We have lost thrust in both engines. We're turning back toward LaGuardia.

KING: So you knew you were going to have to go some -- you were going to have to land -- you knew you were going to crash?

SULLENBERGER: I wouldn't put it quite that way. I -- I would say that I expected that this was not going to be like every other flight I had flown for my entire career and it probably would not end on a runway with the airplane undamaged.

I quickly determined that we were at too low an altitude at too slow a speed and therefore do not have enough energy to return to LaGuardia, because it's too far away and we're headed away from it.

After briefly considering the only other nearby airport, which is Teterboro in New Jersey, I realized it's too far away. And the penalty for choosing wrongly and attempting to make a runway I could not make might be catastrophic for all of us on the airplane plus people on the ground.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cactus 1529, we couldn't get it for you.

Do you want to try to land on Runway 1-3?

SULLENBERGER: We're unable. We may end up in the Hudson.

When we first landed and the airplane came to a stop, it was better than I expected. I sensed that the aircraft was intact, that the touchdown was survivable and that we had a good chance of getting everybody out. I was confidant.

My most important duty at that point -- since we had lost the electrical power and the public address system would not work, was to open that cockpit door and shout into the cabin the order, "Evacuate!"

KING: You went back through twice, right, to make sure everyone was off?

SULLENBERGER: I had time. I could leave no chance that there would be anybody left behind.


KING: Well, you were all wonderful last night and I'm glad you agreed to do another night with us, especially with the passengers -- some you may be seeing for the first time since the water.

Anyway, let's bring out our first survivor. He was in seat 1C.

Barry Leonard -- come on in, Bar. Barry, you'll sit right next to the captain.



Very good to see you.

LEONARD: Good to see you, too.



KING: You -- you tried to swim?

LEONARD: Well, I was in the seat 1C. And when I was told to unfasten my seat belt and go to the door, I'm very good at following directions. And so that's what I did. And at that point, after the door was open, the raft did not deploy. And I heard someone say from behind me: "Jump, jump."

So I, again, followed directions. So I...


LEONARD: First I took my shoes off and then I...

KING: You're a robot?

LEONARD: And then I jumped. And then I jumped. And...

KING: And wound up where?

LEONARD: I -- basically what I did was I swam out for about a minute. I was just trying to find out where the shores were, because I had no idea where we were -- if we were in the middle of the Hudson or close to one of the shores. And after swimming out for about a minute, I realized we were in the middle. So at that point I turned around and went back. And the raft was deployed. And it was great from there on. You know, I was just so thankful, because I knew I had about five minutes in the water.

KING: Were the passengers as calm as described last night?

LEONARD: Absolutely.

KING: They were?

LEONARD: Yes, absolutely.

KING: All right.

How does it feel to be here with the crew? LEONARD: Well, it's a -- it's a wild factor for me. It's -- what happens is that I think about it as six degrees of separation. You know, for each one of the 155 people, you all had an impact of probably tens of thousands of people, you know. And I mean I just can't tell you how much my family and my friends and everyone has just -- you know, sends their best wishes and thank you for, you know, really saving all of our lives.

KING: Does it feel interesting to see a passenger?

SULLENBERGER: Oh, it feels great. We've seen them in Charlotte. We've seen them here in New York. It's been just the most wonderful experience for -- for all of us.

KING: You saved their lives (INAUDIBLE) to feel that.


KING: You were injured, right?

LEONARD: Yes, sir. I -- basically, I was in the brace position in the first seat. So there was a bulkhead there. And I -- I cracked my sternum when -- at the impact. And so I was in the hospital for a couple of days.

KING: Have you flown since?

LEONARD: I -- I've been on 10 flights since then.

KING: Help them. They don't fly.


LEONARD: You know, I...

KING: Were you worried at first?

LEONARD: You know, it was amazing. After Captain Sully said: "Brace for impact," I was totally at peace. And I -- I can't explain why, really. But I was totally at peace until the guy that was sitting next to me grabbed me by the arm and he said: "We're going to die, aren't we?"

And I said -- I said: "No. Everything is going to be fine. Everything is going to be fine." And -- which it was. I had -- I had total confidence that everything was going to be OK.

KING: You did not think you were going to die?

LEONARD: I did not think we were going to die. No.

KING: Did anybody here think it?

You did.


KING: The captain ever thought it?

SULLENBERGER: No. But I understand why Doreen did. She faced a different challenge in the back than we did in front.

KING: Yes, she got hit harder. She got injured.


KING: She got scared more.

The water was coming in there, right?


WELSH: Oh, yes. It was (INAUDIBLE). So I was...

KING: The water was up to where?

WELSH: My whole uniform was wet from the neck down when I got -- so it was pretty -- I mean, I remember thinking I have seconds. So I guess about here.

KING: What do you do for a living, Barry?

LEONARD: I'm a CEO of some home fashions companies. And I actually live in Charlotte and work in Manhattan.

KING: You commute?

LEONARD: Every week.

KING: On US Air?

LEONARD: On US Air. Chairmen's Preferred.

KING: You still fly US Air then, right?

LEONARD: All the time. I flew them all over the country two weeks ago, the West Coast and back.

SULLENBERGER: It was these experienced travelers who followed directions and behaved so admirably that were a big factor in the success of this evacuation.

KING: Yes, that's the key here, right Jeffrey -- that he is used to flying?

SKILES: Oh, I think very much so.


SKILES: Out of New York City, of course, you're going to have a higher percentage of experienced travelers. And they certainly were. They did their jobs. And I hope you got a tetanus shot after swimming in that Hudson, Barry.


LEONARD: They actually did.


LEONARD: In the E.R. they actually said that I should be on some antibiotics, probably.


LEONARD: But I also wanted to say that, you know, I think the pilots that had flown that route -- you know, you had that experience, as well, of knowing what the options were. If it -- if it had been a pilot that hadn't had that experience, maybe, you know, you wouldn't have known what...

KING: Never flying that -- yes, that's a good...

LEONARD: You know.

KING: Barry, hang with us.

LEONARD: Yes, sir.

KING: Stay with us.


KING: Barry Leonard.

We're meeting more survivors.

How can someone be completely at peace as a catastrophe looms?

We'll ask a passenger who knows what it's like to have a life flash in front of them -- and reunite with the crew for the first time, next.



SULLENBERGER: That photograph is obviously an iconic image of this entire event. On the other hand, I was -- I was gratified that we got everybody out, that everyone thus far was safe and they were being rescued. I -- I instructed the rescue vessels that were within earshot of me to rescue people on the wings first, because they were obviously in a more precarious position and getting much colder than we in the rafts.


KING: Our next survivor will be meeting the crew for the first time. Let's say hello to Jim Hanks.

Jim, come on in.


How are you?


It's good to meet you.

HANKS: Very nice to meet you.

SULLENBERGER: Thank you for joining us.

HANKS: Thank you so much.

KING: Now, Jim, you were seated close to the back, right?

HANKS: I was. I was in seat 22C.

KING: So Doreen was your flight attendant?

HANKS: Yes, I understand she was in the rear.

KING: Do you remember her?

HANKS: Actually, I can't say that I remember her from the aircraft. As it happened, when I exited the aircraft from the front right exit, she was in the life raft and I wound up sitting next to her. And I saw the rather bad cut on her calf and tried to assist, with another passenger.

KING: How does it feel for you, Jim, to see them all and be around them all?

HANKS: Well, I'm very grateful to be able to say personally to Captain Sullenberger and the other members of the crew, on behalf of my wife and daughter and myself, thank you very much.


KING: Where were you on the plane? Where were you -- were you by the window?

HANKS: No, I was on the aisle.

KING: What do you remember about the impact?

HANKS: Well, the impact was very, very strong and dramatic, because that was in the rear of the aircraft. And it felt like we landed right below where I was sitting, which, in fact, I guess is what happened.

And so it was a very dramatic impact -- a lot of noise. And it seemed very sudden, though. It happened and then it was over.

KING: Did you hear the birds hit the plane?

HANKS: I did not hear -- the birds may have hit the plane, I think, until later.

KING: Were you thinking -- did you think you bought it?

Did you think you were going to die?

HANKS: Well, actually, one of the things I discovered is that in a situation like this, you have to survive more than once. You have to survive the crash, the landing, which we did. And then you have to survive whatever comes afterwards, whether it's a fire or, in this case, water filling the back of the cabin very quickly. And then you have to survive whatever comes after that, which, you know on this day was a 20 degree air temperature and some passengers, like myself, who had water up to their neck and were wet.

KING: God.

Were you the last passenger off the plane?

HANKS: I think I may have been, because, I -- on the way down, I was thinking about what to do. And I remembered the airline's instructions that you hear all the time on just about every airline, that in the case of an emergency evacuation, go to the exit that's nearest you, which may be behind you. And there I was almost to the rear.

So I decided that I would go to rear exit. And after the immediate impact, I stepped out into the aisle.

And the water, at that point, was already up to my waist. I moved to the rear. I understand that another passenger may have done the same thing. I didn't see him, but I saw him on a program a while ago saying that he had done the same thing. He may have been further back in the aircraft and gotten there and left before I did.

But when I got to the rear, I saw that the door had been wrenched in its casing.

KING: And you couldn't get out?

HANKS: There was no way it was going to be opened.

KING: So you had to go back to a front door?

HANKS: That's right. But yet it had been wrenched in a way that created a couple of openings between the door itself and the casing. So water was coming. But I could see that there was no point in trying to stay any longer. And in just that short period of time, the 15 or 20 seconds had elapsed, the water by then was already up to my neck. And I thought that I was going to drown.

KING: We're doing a kind of reunion here. So, Jim, you hang around.


KING: Next, one of the passengers who was on the wing -- his story in 60 seconds.

Stay with us.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cactus 1529, which engines?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He lost thrust in both engines, he said.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cactus 1529, we couldn't get it to you.

Do you want to try to land on Runway 1-3?

SULLENBERGER: We're unable. We may end up in the Hudson.


KING: Our next survivor was in seat 16F by the window, right behind the right wing. And he was on, our guest tonight -- he was a guest, rather, with us the night of the crash.

Let's meet Alberto Panero.

Alberto, it's nice to have you back again.


Good to see you.

KING: This time right in person.

PANERO: Yes. Good.

How are you doing, Captain?

SULLENBERGER: Hi. Good to see you.

PANERO: Same here.

KING: The crew.

WELSH: Hey, Alberto.

PANERO: How are you?

WELSH: Good. How are you?


KING: And that first night you were on with us, Alberto.

PANERO: Yes. That's right.

KING: This is nothing to you. This was a walk in the park.

PANERO: It was a walk in the park. Not really, but...

KING: Have you gotten over it?

PANERO: I'm in the process. You know, I've tried to, you know, use what I've learned from the whole experience into my medical career -- you know, seeing how much training goes into reacting in situations. I've been really trying to shift the focus from the accident into focusing on training as hard as I can, to be the best doctor I can be because...

KING: How far along are you?

PANERO: I graduate in May. So...

KING: From?

PANERO: From Nova Southeastern University. So I know, you know, in very short months, I'm going to have peoples' lives in my hands, just like he did. And there's going to come a time where I'm going to have to use my training to save their lives.

KING: We'll be right back with more of the Alberto Panero story, right after this.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sully, I want you to fly every plane I'm on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sully, well played, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I hope those angels keep riding with you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These guys are heroes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wish you well, Sully. Congratulations.


KING: We're back with the crew of "The Miracle."

And joining us -- staying with us is Alberto Panero, the survivor. He was one of our guests, as we said, the night of the show.

Did you think you bought it?

Did you think you were going to die?

PANERO: Yes. I think one I heard: "Brace for impact," that's kind of when things started going -- you know, part of me was trying to keep myself calm and tell me that everything was going to be OK. But, you know, obviously, I was in the window, so I saw the water coming in closer and closer. So I just kind of accepted the fact that I was going to die and, you know, in a sense, I was just like, all right, bring it on.

KING: How does it feel to be sitting next to the pilot and be with the crew?

PANERO: I mean, it's a wonderful feeling just to be able to say think you and just to be here and see that everybody here is OK -- not just me or just a couple of people. It's just the fact that everybody made it alive. It's just a wonderful feeling.

KING: What did you think when you heard "Brace for impact?"

PANERO: Well, up to that moment, I thought that we were headed back to LaGuardia. I thought that maybe the right engine was still functioning. I know that you can fly on one engine.

And once I heard those words, it was more of a -- just a reassurance that, no, we're not going back to LaGuardia. We're going to hit the water and pretty quickly.

KING: Did you know the birds hit the plane?

PANERO: No. I didn't know what -- what actually happened. I knew that something had hit the left engine. I could smell the smoke. And, you know, I -- you could sense that something was wrong. But there was no way for me to tell that it was birds.

KING: You wound up on the wing, right?

PANERO: Initially, yes. I went into the right wing. But the raft, for some reason, was all kind of bent into shape. They hadn't pulled it out right away. So since I was still close to the door, I peeked back in and there was a -- basically a straight line. And it wasn't crowded. And all I could see was the captain and I believe the stewardess over there. And I just remember seeing them. And I just started running towards the front. And they were just pointing to get out to the door.

KING: Now, when you got out, that was pretty cold, right?

PANERO: Yes. I mean, that's the main reason I went into the raft, because when I got out on the wing, my feet started getting so cold just from, you know, the water rising, that I said, you know, this is probably not the best idea. I'm going to -- you know, once I got out, I'm like, I'll float, I'll swim, I'll do whatever I have to do.

Once I realized how cold it was, I'm like, oh, this might now be the best idea. So I saw some space in the raft and that's when I went for it.

KING: What about the rescue people from New York?

PANERO: Man, they did a great job. You know, as soon as everything got pretty much stabilized on the raft, that's when I initially looked up and I already saw the ferry coming. And it was just -- you know, that's when I knew that we were going to be OK.

KING: What's it like to see these survivors, Captain?

SULLENBERGER: Wonderful. I cannot explain to you what a tremendous sense of relief I felt that night when it was official, that I finally knew that the total was 155, that everyone was safe. And to see them and to meet them and meet their families and hear their stories is just simply wonderful.

KING: What's it like for you, Donna?


It's wonderful.

KING: Doreen?

WELSH: Oh, wonderful. I mean, we went through all this together. It's just...

KING: Because you all shared the experience.

WELSH: We shared something that...

KING: You will have that all of your life.

WELSH: Forever.

KING: Yes, how do -- do you feel the same way?


Um-hmm. And to hear their stories, it just

fills in, you know, the missing pieces. Because when you're doing it, you don't remember everything. And then you're hearing the story from their (INAUDIBLE).

KING: Yes. And you're forever kind of bound together, you know.


PANERO: Yes, absolutely.

KING: In a common experience.

PANERO: Especially, you know, we were on the same raft.

KING: Oh, you were on that raft, too? PANERO: Um-hmm. And it seems like we all just formed this bond that night. But you could see, even when I've met other groups of people, you know, people kind of tend to group themselves as the crew from the right wing, the crew from the left raft...


PANERO: You know, and we're the crew from the right raft, you know, so...


KING: If you just tuned in, that was not political.


KING: One survivor's view of strangers and how she reacts to them is changed forever by her experience on the Miracle flight. This is the first time she will reunite with the flight crew. And that reunion takes place when we come back.


KING: Our next passenger joining us was in seat 20-C. And this will be the first time meeting the crew since the crash, Beth McHugh.

Beth, come on aboard.


KING: This has got to be some kind of, I guess, thrill is the right word?

MCHUGH: Can I give you a hug?

SULLENBERGER: Good to meet you.

MCHUGH: So good to meet you.

KING: Doreen, the whole crew is here.

Now, Beth, I understand that you're a regular flyer and knew right away you were in trouble.


KING: Since you heard a noise.

MCHUGH: Yes. I fly every week on U.S. Airways. I heard the engine -- the explosion. And I knew it was bad. You hear sounds on a plane all of the time and you kind of get to know what sounds OK and what sounds not OK.

KING: Did you know it was birds?

MCHUGH: I didn't. I had no idea. KING: Is it true you were on a plane hit by lightning?

MCHUGH: Years ago. But planes do get struck by lightning and nothing happens. You know, it's just -- we saw a flash and saw it hit the wing, and then the pilot came on and said, it's OK, we didn't sustain any damage. And we were fine.

KING: He didn't say, prepare for impact.



MCHUGH: I had never heard that before.

KING: You -- I understand you heard a woman scream?

MCHUGH: Behind me -- a few rows behind me, just when the engine -- that sound of the engine blowing. And she just made a quick little scream, like a startled scream. And I remember hearing Doreen say -- she jumped up, I think, and Doreen said, please keep -- stay seated, fasten you seat belt.

KING: What do you think of the job the flight attendants did?

MCHUGH: Oh, it was incredible. All of the crew were incredible. I felt -- I was afraid that maybe Doreen hadn't been able to get back into her seat in time for the impact. And so I was afraid that she might have been hurt. And then I --

KING: You were worried about the crew?

MCHUGH: Well, only -- it was just briefly. I wasn't as worried about the crew. But I knew later on that she might have been hurt, because I didn't think she had time to get in her seat.

KING: We're hearing from the survivors, what's it like to hear their stories, Sully?

SULLENBERGER: It's wonderful to hear their stories. And it's fascinating to hear their stories, because they're relating things I could not directly observe.

KING: Yes.

SULLENBERGER: It's filling in a lot of gaps in my understanding of exactly what transpired --

KING: Putting it all together.

SULLENBERGER: Putting it all together.

KING: What's it like for you, Jeffrey?

SKILES: Oh, it's -- I mean, it's very interesting hearing their stories, particularly as pilots. We don't have the contact day-to-day with the passengers that flight attendants do, because they're behind the locked doors. So it's very gratifying hearing their stories.

KING: It brings some clarity, right, Sheila?

DAIL: Right. It does.

SULLENBERGER: But no surprises, because I know that our flight attendants did exactly what they were trained to do.

KING: Beth, do you think about it a lot?

MCHUGH: Often. I wake up in the morning and it's one of the first things I think about. But I'm thinking more about what am I going to get to do with the rest of this life I've been given back now.

KING: Where do you live?

MCHUGH: I live in a small town outside of Charlotte, in Lake Wylie, South Carolina.

KING: I ask that because what's it like for you when you are in New York?

MCHUGH: Well --

KING: Well, that's where there is -- all of this happened?

MCHUGH: Oh, all of this happened, yes. I'm up here every week in the New York/New Jersey area. And so being up here -- I've always loved the New York/New Jersey area. Now, of course, I love it even more because of how they responded. The response was wonderful.

KING: Do you see the Hudson?

MCHUGH: Yes. In fact, flying home last Thursday from Newark, we took the same path out and over, but going the opposite direction. And I could see exactly where we had been in the Hudson as I flew over it.

KING: What was it like to be in the Hudson?



MCHUGH: Really, really cold.

KING: Was it choppy?

MCHUGH: I didn't -- I was in one of the life rafts. It wasn't choppy until the helicopters came over. At least I didn't feel it was. You know, my impression maybe isn't the best memory. But it didn't feel like it was choppy. But the helicopters chopped up the water somewhat.

KING: What was it like to look at the plane sitting in the water?

MCHUGH: Scary. And when I see the pictures now and I see the damage to the right engine and I think of what it could have been, it's a little scary to see it.

KING: Do you wonder why it didn't sink?

MCHUGH: I know enough about aircrafts to know that they're sealed pretty well. They make them a little bit buoyant. But I know also now that there was a hole in the tail of the plane and that the door was open. And that's why the water was up around my knees within three seconds, so.

KING: But you have flown a lot since, right?

MCHUGH: Yes. I've been on about --

KING: So you don't fear birds or anything?

MCHUGH: -- nine flights, 10 flights. It's not the birds I'm afraid of. But, you know, I know that that can happen now, so.

KING: The cockpit recordings, the passengers and crew listen together. Stay with us.



MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: Ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of all New Yorkers, I want to thank you for saving so many lives. I want to thank you for sparing our city and so many families from an awful tragedy. I want to thank you for renewing our faith in the strength of human spirit. You have reminded us why we can do anything if we put our minds to it. We can achieve the impossible.


KING: We're back. And we'll repeat something we did last night. Here again for this crew to listen to and the passengers, the final audio -- the audio transmission of the last few seconds of U.S. Airways Flight 1549 before it went into the Hudson. Listen.


SULLENBERGER: What's over to our right. Anything in New Jersey, maybe Teterboro?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Yes, off to your right side is Teterboro Airport.

Do you want to try to go to Teterboro?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Teterboro, Empire -- actually LaGuardia Departure got an emergency inbound.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cactus 1529 over the George Washington Bridge wants to go to your airport right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wants to go to our airport, check. Does he need assistance?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. He -- it was a bird strike. Can I get him in for runway one?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Runway one, that's good.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cactus 1529, turn right 2-8-0, you can land runway one at Teterboro.

SULLENBERGER: We can't do it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Which runway would you like at Teterboro?

SULLENBERGER: We're going to be in the Hudson.


KING: Wow. It's kind of weird to hear that, isn't it?

MCHUGH: It is, the first time I heard that flight recording, it was difficult to listen to, because what I thought of was these five people are all human beings just like us. And they had to be thinking that this might be their last time too --

KING: Yes.

MCHUGH: -- just like we were. And they weren't going to see their families again, and yet they did their jobs, and nothing else, perfectly.

KING: All in it together. Barry, someone loaned you a pilot's shirt and then someone else thought you were one of the pilots?

LEONARD: That's right. That's right. It was the gentleman that was the US Air pilot. And he -- when I got back in the raft, he said, sir, you have to get out of those clothes or you're going to freeze to death.

So I took my shirt off. I took my undershirt off. So then the only thing I had left was my jeans. And I was freezing from being in the water for two or three minutes. And at that point, he took off his pilot's shirt and gave it to me.

KING: Wow.

LEONARD: Took the shirt off of his back and gave it to me.

KING: And then someone else thought you were a pilot?

LEONARD: When I got into the -- on the ferry, somebody came up and they said, thank you, thank you, thanks. And I'm like --


LEONARD: -- what do you mean, thank you?


LEONARD: And I told him. I said, I'm not the pilot. I'm not the pilot. The same thing in the E.R., and I just kept saying, I'm not one of the pilots.

KING: We will talk to our friends in Charlotte when we come back. Don't go away.


KING: Joining us now in Charlotte, North Carolina, three more survivors: Don Norton, he was in seat 11-F. In fact, he opened the exit door. Darren Beck was in seat 3-A, and Ben Bostic in seat 20-A.

Don, we've got the whole crew here. What would you like to say to them?

DON NORTON, U.S. AIRWAYS FLIGHT 1549 PASSENGER: Well, I'd like to say, you know, as I said when they were in Charlotte, you know, thank you so much for saving my life. I know you were just doing you job, but to keep calm and collected and doing what you did under those circumstances was just tremendous. Thank you for bringing me home to my wife and my little boy.

KING: Darren Beck, what would you like to say?

DARREN BECK, U.S. AIRWAYS FLIGHT 1549 PASSENGER: I love those guys. I just want to take them with me everywhere to keep me out of trouble.


KING: Well said. And, Ben Bostic?

BEN BOSTIC, U.S. AIRWAYS FLIGHT 1549 PASSENGER: I'd just like to say thanks to them as well. I just feel like I'm indebted to those five individuals and also all of the help we received from the New York Police Department, FDNY, everybody. Just can't say thanks enough. I just really appreciate it, from my friends and all of my family.

KING: Don, you were seated by the emergency exit. You opened the door after the landing. Tell us what that was like?

NORTON: Well, it was definitely interesting. I mean, I got up out of my seat. You know, I was thinking the whole way down that, you know, I've got to open this door. So I got up. I pulled down the door. I immediately pulled it off.

And then I really didn't know what to do with the door. So I kind of stepped out on onto the wing, threw it into the river, and then walked out on the wing to let the rest of the passengers come out.

KING: Whoa. And then where did you go?

NORTON: I streamed out further on the wing, as far as I can go, so I can let the rest of the people come out.

KING: And Darren, you were in the front by the window. You could see the engine mangled. Tell us what that was like.

BECK: Yes, I could. I was far enough up and on the window side so I could look -- actually look out and look back into the front of the engine. And after the plane shook I looked back there and you could see there were flames and the fan blades that are normally perfectly aligned were just mangled. And it was shocking. It definitely left a sickening feeling in your stomach.

KING: Did you know it was birds?

BECK: I did not, no. I mean, I'd like to say that thought flashed through my head, but it may have been just something I heard after the fact. I knew it was bad. I could tell that.

KING: Now, Ben, you were near one of the engines. I understood you expected a more traumatic landing. Is that true?

BOSTIC: Correct. I was sitting in seat 20-A and I could see the engine burning. And I just prepared myself for the worst. But I still held out hope that Sully would come back and give us words of reassurance at the time. And after a while, when he told us to brace for impact, that was when I think I didn't have much confidence I was going to make it through at that point.

KING: Don, has this changed the way you look at life at all?

NORTON: Yes, I think it definitely has. I mean, I try to appreciate every day now that I have to spend with my family and my friends and co-workers. I mean, I think you start to appreciate everything more. Try to get through the days and just get past this.

KING: Darren, you too?

BECK: Absolutely, definitely. I mean, it's amazing to me -- I knew Ben and Don from work, but even total strangers on the plane are like family now. I'd consider giving Beth a kidney if she needed one, because I love her that much now.

KING: Ben, the same with you?

BOSTIC: Same thing. I'm just honored to be associated with such fine, outstanding individuals. I mean, every passenger I came into contact with has been excellent, just like the crew. I can't say that enough.

I wish it was under different circumstances, but it's been great and really a lot of positives to take from it.

KING: We're honored to have you with us. Don Norton, Darren Beck, Ben Bostic.

If there are some unsung heroes, they might just be the rescuers on the water. Captain Sullenberger wants to thank them and he is going to have a chance after this.




KING: You went back through twice, right, to make sure no one was there?

SULLENBERGER: I had time. I could leave no chance that there would be anybody left behind.


KING: Joining us now, two of the rescue workers who helped pull over 30 passengers to safety. Captain Vincent Lucanti, New York Waterway Ferry. He helped rescue 24 people, including an infant and a child. His first time meeting the crew and passengers right now. And Petty Officer Second Class Ian Kennedy, U.S. Coast Guard, New York, one of the first responders on the scene, also pulled several people to safety. His first time meeting the crew since that day.

OK, Captain Lucanti. What's this like for you.

VINCENT LUCANTI, NEW YORK WATERWAY FERRY: Very exciting and the feeling is -- there is no words to explain it. I got the call. We untied the ferry, me and my co-worker. And we backed out of the work facility where we keep one of the ferries. And we were 600 yards away from the aircraft at that time. We were there within minutes.

KING: Didn't expect it that day?

LUCANTI: No. Absolutely not. No.

KING: Petty Officer Lucanti -- Petty Officer, rather, Kennedy, how does this feel for you?

PETTY OFFICER IAN KENNEDY, U.S. COAST GUARD: It was an amazing day. I heard the call come over Channel 16 and I started to make my way towards the Hudson River and saw -- actually I couldn't see the plane when I first got there, because it was surrounded by ferry boats. The response was great. And I made my way towards the starboard side. And seeing that U.S. Airways flight floating in the Hudson River was just unbelievable.

KING: And you started pulling people off the wing, right away?

LUCANTI: Yes. Instantly.

KING: It was cold, right.

LUCANTI: It was very cold.

KING: And what did you do immediately?

LUCANTI: When I showed up, I noticed right away that there was two ladies on the starboard side wing. And I just approached them as quick as possible and got them aboard my vessel. My crewmembers grabbed them. They did a great job, got them on board. And then we went around the tail end of the plane and I approached the port side, where we saw another 12 or so people on that wing.

KING: Did you have the child and the baby?


KING: What did you think happened?

LUCANTI: We had no idea. We just said we have to get these people out of the water.

KING: You had no idea the engines or birds --

LUCANTI: No. No idea. As a matter of fact, the starboard wing was already submerged, so we couldn't even see the engine at that point.

KING: Captain, what is this like for you?

SULLENBERGER: Wonderful. I've been waiting for three weeks to do just this, to say thank you, which of course is totally inadequate. That's all I can say is -- I got the passengers to surface, the flight attendants got them out, and you saved them.

KING: Jeffrey, what do you say to them?

SKILES: That's absolutely true. As I said earlier, I mean, we got them into the water, you got them out.


KING: And what do you guys say? What do you say, Jim Hanks?

HANKS: I think Jeff put it very well. We're all very grateful for the first responders, because with everything the crew did so successfully, it still might not have as good an outcome if the first responders hadn't been there so quickly and done such a great job. So thanks very much to all of you.

KING: You think a lot about that day, Ian?

KENNEDY: I do. I haven't stopped thinking about it. I don't know when it ever will end. I think about what I did; did I do the right thing? I think about the passengers, what they were thinking about on the way down.

KING: There is nothing you could have done wrong, they all lived. Couldn't have goofed.

You think about it a lot, Vince?

LUCANTI: Every day. Thinking about all the training that's put into this, it's for a reason. It pays off. We proved it and all the other ferry crewmembers.

KING: But you're not ferry-trained to get people off a plane.

LUCANTI: No, we've been asked that many times. But it's getting people out of the water. And it was the same situation, whether it was a sinking vessel, an aircraft. We're trained to remove them from the water. That's what we did.

Usually not 150 at a time, but we just put it all in play.

KING: Did you -- you didn't see the captain or anything, right?

KENNEDY: If I did, I wouldn't have noticed at that point. I was pretty focused.

KING: You were just working hard -- why do you think this stays with you, Ian?

KENNEDY: Just because it was so amazing. We do the training for things like this all the time, pulling people out of the water. And to have a case like this happen, where it was so successful with everyone living, I'll just never forget it. It was just an amazing day.

KING: We'll keep everybody here and back with our remaining moments right after this.


KING: We're back with our remaining moments? What does one say with an event like this, to host a show like this, around people who all have formed a bond together that they will never forget. So we'll call on anybody -- anybody have a final quick word? Sheila?

DAIL: I just think it was an example of just a real team effort, because we all had a common goal, to get off the airplane, to get out of the water. And I think just everyone who worked together I just think we all deserve a pat on the back because we all worked together.

KING: Doreen?

WALSH: Oh, the same thing. I think it was just a miracle like we're calling it. I mean, it was an amazing -- it brought a lot of people together. I mean, we all look at each other and we know what we've been through and it's amazing. I just want to thank everybody for -- there are no words.

KING: Donna, what's your two cents? It's your money.

DENT: It has been an incredible experience. I think I have a lot of lifelong -- not just friends but they're family now.

KING: Yeah. That's so true. Alberto?

PANERO: I think two things. One, to show to everybody that's seen this episode is that every day you have a gift and you need to use it accordingly. And number two is never underestimate the little things that you do in life and the training that you have, because when it comes down to it, that's what you're going to rely on.

KING: Also want to thank our three guys in Charlotte, Don Norton, Darren Beck and Ben Bostic and Barry Leonard. There's something you want to say?

LEONARD: Crew skill, God's will.

KING: Beth?

MCHUGH: Thank you to everyone who had a hand in making this a miracle. It was a miracle. Every day is a miracle now.

KING: And Jim?

HANKS: Well, I want to say thank you again not only for my wife and daughter but I think the crew saved not only 155 people but all their descendants and their descendants' descendants. So there are going to be a lot more than 155 people who lived because of your actions. Thanks so much.

KING: Ian?

KENNEDY: I'm thankful for seeing the training I was taught put into effect and it really works, and the fact that we got up there. And the ferries responded so well, FDNY, NYPD, we all worked so well together it just went very smoothly.

KING: Running quickly, Vincent?

LUCANTI: I'm just glad we were able to be part of the rescue and the training did pay off and we're happy to exist.

KING: Jeffrey?

SKILES: Well, clearly there were many, many people involved in this successful outcome. Maybe we all saved each other.

KING: We'll leave the last word to Sully.

SULLENBERGER: Something about this situation seems to have brought out the best in people the day it happened. It seems to have brought the best in people out since then also.

KING: Thank you all. Nice salute. Congratulations.


KING: Safe flights.

Bill Maher will be here Thursday night. Go to and check out our complete guest list this week. We've got Penelope Cruz and Josh Brolin, the cast of "Slumdog Millionaire," among others, coming up.

Send us an e-mail or blog, while you're at it. Time now Anderson Cooper and "AC 360." Anderson?