The former Hillsboro resident who survived the “Miracle on the Hudson” emergency plane landing in 2009 told Hillsboro Rotarians and other guests on Tuesday that the event changed his life and opened the door for him to inspire others.
Dave Sanderson, who attended grade school and played sports in Hillsboro before moving away, described the ordeal and the people he considers the “real heroes,” including the pilot and the first responders who arrived on the scene.
Sanderson said one reason he escaped was due to the swimming lessons he took at the Hillsboro pool as a youngster. He said his return to Hillsboro became a reality after he reconnected with childhood friends Donnie Barrera and Andrea Holt.
Barrera, now the county sheriff, introduced Sanderson on Tuesday, recalling that they had played basketball together in the 1970s. He called Sanderson, who was the last to exit US Airways Flight 1549 after making sure everyone got out safely, a “true hero.”
Sanderson said he welcomed the “rare opportunity” to come home, saying he was “really privileged.”
Non-Rotarians were invited to Tuesday’s meeting, and the Ponderosa Banquet Center was crowded with guests who came to hear Sanderson’s story of inner strength overcoming fear.
Sanderson joked that like many passengers, he seldom paid much attention to pre-flight instructions from attendants or bothered to read safety manuals before take-off.
“I guarantee you, now I do,” he said.
Sanderson was a tech sales manager when he boarded Flight 1549 from LaGuardia Airport on Jan. 15, 2009. When the plane collided with a flock of geese on takeoff, Capt. Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger made the decision to attempt a landing in the Hudson River. Miraculously, Sullenberger pulled off the landing with no casualties as the world watched the events unfold on television.
Sanderson said that when the plane touched down in the river, he immediately began looking for an exit. But then he said he heard his mother’s voice saying, “If you do the right thing, God will take care of you.”
Sanderson then stayed behind to help people exit the plane, eventually finding himself the last person on the aircraft and no room left on the wings where passengers had gathered to stay out of the icy water. With the plane sinking quickly, he plunged into the 36-degree water and swam to the nearest rescue ferry.
Medical personnel were concerned that his life was in danger, and he was rushed to a hospital and treated for hypothermia and an eye injury due to exposure to jet fuel. At one point his body temperature was as low as 94 degrees, he said.
Sanderson said Tuesday that except for another passenger and him, 148 passengers went home the same day of the landing, thanks to the skill of the pilot, who was a former fighter pilot, and the quick response of ferries and other boats in the Hudson.
Sanderson said the people of New York and New Jersey “get a bad rap,” but “they do one thing very well – they respond.”
He said he regularly meets people who have been inspired by his story, and who have had their faith restored or kindled. He said one woman recently told him that his experience offered “physical evidence that there is a God, and there are miracles.”
Sanderson said a movie about Sullenberger, starring Tom Hanks and produced and directed by Clint Eastwood, is due in theaters Sept. 9. Sanderson said he filmed five scenes for the movie and he hopes one of them makes the cut.
Sanderson was born in Peoria, Ill., and grew up in Hillsboro and Winchester, Va. He lives with his wife, Terri, and four children in Charlotte, NC.
More on Sanderson can be found at www.davesandersonspeaks.com.
Sanderson was scheduled for a book signing from 5-7 p.m. Tuesday at the Ponderosa Banquet Center.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.