3 Plane Crashes and Amazing Survival Stories


U.S. Airways Flight 1549 crash landed into New York's Hudson River on January 15 with 150 passengers and crew aboard. The most recent reports state that the plane had departed from LaGuardia Airport bound for Charlotte, North Carolina, when a flock of birds hit not one but both engines, disabling them and necessitating an emergency landing six minutes after takeoff. Ferry boats rescued passengers who'd evacuated to the wings of the plane, and although there were some injuries and cases of hypothermia, at this time it appears there were no casualties.

While this particular air disaster had a happy ending, we're reminded of others that had more bittersweet resolutions, and we mention them now not only for historic purposes, but also in respectful memory of the families of the victims to let them know that their loved ones are not forgotten.

Air Florida flight 90 (and the Extraordinary Acts of Bystanders)

The Washington, D.C., area was hit by one of the worst winter storms in recent memory on January 13, 1982. Congress adjourned early in order to let employees make their way home on snow-clogged roads. Washington National Airport had been closed that morning but opened at noon, so that crews could plow the runways. Flight 90 was sitting at gate B12, scheduled to depart at 2:15PM. When the craft was finally cleared to push from the gate at 3:23, the Tug had difficulty moving the plane, so the Captain used reverse thrust to back the plane from the gate. Unfortunately, this maneuver sucked large amounts of storm debris into the engines. Later, while in line for takeoff, the Captain pulled close enough to the DC-9 ahead of him in order to let the hot exhaust melt the snow from his wings; however, the resulting slush re-froze on the trailing portion of the wing. Shortly after takeoff, the plane hit Washington's 14th Street Bridge and then plunged into the icy Potomac River.

Roger Olian, a sheet metal worker on his way home from work was near the bridge when he heard cries for help. Realizing that the traffic and weather conditions would delay rescue workers, he jumped into the icy water and pulled survivors from the wreckage. People on the shore fashioned a rope from scarves and jumper cables and pulled him back to shore as a helicopter arrived. The helicopter then dropped a line down and towed the victims to shore. One man, Arland D. Williams, Jr., repeatedly caught the line and then passed it on to other survivors rather than using it himself. When a female passenger caught the line but was too weak to hold on, a 28-year-old bystander named Lenny Skutnik stripped off his coat and boots and swam out to assist her.

Northwest Flight 255 and the 4-year old Survivor

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Witnesses to the crash noted that the plane rolled right and left about 35 degrees upon takeoff, which caused the left wing to strike a light pole in a nearby car rental lot. The plane continued to list to the left and hit another pole and then the roof of the car rental building, after which it finally made contact with the ground and slid into a railroad embankment whereupon it burst into flames. As rescuers inspected the debris, they were surprised to hear a soft whimper. They found four-year-old Cecilia Cichan, who'd been headed for Phoenix with her parents and older brother, still belted into an overturned seat. She'd suffered some third-degree burns and a broken leg, but she ended up being the only survivor of the tragic plane crash. After being released from the University of Michigan hospital, Cecilia went to live with relatives in Alabama. She graduated from college in 2006 with a degree in psychology.

United Airlines Flight 232 (and the 185 Survivors)

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The autopilot was disconnected, but instead of leveling out the plane began to descend. The flight attendants were advised to prepare the passengers for a crash landing, and that's when passenger Dennis Fitch offered to help. Fitch was a United training pilot with over 3,000 hours experience on the DC-10, so Haynes asked him to look out the windows for any structural damage. Fitch reported that none of the controls appeared to be damaged, and he was then asked to take control of the throttle levers while the rest of the crew prepared for an emergency landing (dumping fuel, extending landing gear, etc.).

Captain Haynes got permission from Sioux City airport to land in an open field at the end of one of their runways (since he had very little control of the aircraft at this point). The crew managed to fly straight, but they were unable to control their airspeed or sink rate. While the plane burst into a huge fireball upon landing, thanks to the expertise and dedication of the crew, 185 people survived the crash.