06-11-2011, 01:13 AM
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Once It Was a ‘Miracle’; Soon It’ll Be an Artifact
“We’re waiting here for the miracle plane,” said Doris Eades, 69, as she sat on a guardrail.
Suddenly there it was, the battered, wingless fuselage of US Airways Flight 1549, the star of what has come to be known as the “miracle on the Hudson,” rumbling by on a custom flatbed trailer.
“Look at it. Oh, I love seeing it,” said Linda Speelman, 60, a retired US Airways flight attendant.
When word got around that she had once flown on a plane with Capt. Chesley Sullenberger III, the pilot who made that pitch-perfect water landing in 2009, she became an instant celebrity among the overpass crowd here.
It has been this way nearly all week, as the remains of the Airbus A320 and the caravan escorting it from New Jersey moved south along the highway to its new home at the Carolinas Aviation Museum.
People followed the plane’s progress on Twitter and Facebook, and tracked its exact location on the Web site of J. Supor & Sons, the New Jersey trucking company in charge of the move.
Admirers drove for hours to find the weigh stations where it parked each night, joining hundreds just to touch its side.
Although the plane made its spectacular emergency landing on the Hudson River in New York, and New Yorkers rescued all 155 passengers and crew, this Southern city is where it belongs, said Shawn Dorsch, the president of the museum. He spent 18 months working to secure the plane for his museum, and rode with it the length of the journey.
“It’s a Charlotte story,” he said. “The airport it was going to was Charlotte. Eighty percent of passengers and crew were from Charlotte.”
Ben Bostic was one of those people. He was in Seat 20A. He had a clear view of an engine that burst into flames after taking in several geese shortly after the plane took off.
He spent Thursday and Friday riding with the fuselage on its final leg to Charlotte, where he works as a technology executive for a bank. The last time he saw the plane, “she” had been in the water, he said.
He calls it “she” or “her,” terms of affection for an aircraft he initially blamed in the weeks after the crash.
“I was like, why did your engine have to go out and catch on fire and scare the crap out of me?” he said.
With time, he saw things differently.
“She did everything that she could, that she had to do for us to survive, staying afloat and not breaking apart,” he said. “I grew really fond of the plane as I started to understand how she was extremely vital in our survival.”
Mr. Bostic will be at a reception Saturday in a hangar at the Charlotte airport where the plane will be restored and then moved to the museum.
Designers spent hours gathering stories from him and other passengers as part of their work to turn the plane into a multimillion-dollar exhibit. It will be as much about aviation safety and history as it will be about hope.
The black boxes, personal stories and even life jackets from the boats that rescued passengers will all be part of it.
So will the wings, on which passengers stood waiting for help as millions watched on television.
“There are passengers who couldn’t care less about anything but the wings,” Mr. Dorsch said.
Mr. Sullenberger will offer a speech at the private fund-raising event, to which the crew and the passengers of Flight 1549 are invited.
The last time he saw the plane was at a New Jersey salvage yard shortly after the accident. He took an emotional walk around the plane, touching it and making note of how little damage it had sustained considering how hard it hit the water.
In an interview before he headed to Charlotte from his home in the San Francisco Bay Area, Mr. Sullenberger said he was surprised so many people followed “his” plane home.
Then he pondered why.
Was it the chance to show their children a piece of American history, as many people along the route said?
Or the opportunity to see something they saw on TV in real time?
Or maybe, as others said, watching the plane roll by was simply a way to enliven an otherwise sleepy Southern Friday morning.
No, said Mr. Sullenberger, who now makes his living writing books, giving speeches on leadership and consulting on safety.
“It’s a reminder of selflessness and cooperative behavior and goodness,” he said. “It’s a reaffirmation of life, ultimately.”
I'm glad this is being saved in a museum. It's part of our history. A part with a happy ending.