When Flight 1549 abruptly plunged from the skies over The Bronx a decade ago Tuesday, Jeff Kolodjay thought of his pregnant wife — and how he might never get to meet his first-born son.
Kolodjay, 31, was seated in Row 22A when the left engine of the Charlotte, NC-bound Airbus A320 suddenly burst into flames. He felt that engine lose power, then the right.
And then the plane plummeted.
“I was just starting to think of the what-ifs,” Kolodjay told The Post. His wife, Dianne, was about three months pregnant with their son.
“I just remember thinking to myself how much I wanted to be a dad at the time and I might not have the opportunity to meet my first child,” he recalled.
Kolodjay would spend the next five minutes in sheer panic before Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger steered the engineless plane toward the Hudson River.
“You can see the skyline getting lower and lower,” Kolodjay remembered. “And then we started to align with the river — and that’s when [Sullenberger] got on and said, ‘brace for impact.’”
The US Airways plane crashed — hard — into the choppy, icy waters but all passengers and crew survived.
On the 10th anniversary of the emergency landing dubbed the “Miracle of the Hudson,” Kolodjay reflects on the day with as much incredulity as when it happened.
Now the father of two boys, Gabe, 9, and Myles, 6, Kolodjay says he “can’t believe it’s been 10 years, truthfully.
“I wouldn’t use the term emotional — it’s almost unreal to look back and think about it.”
Fellow flier Tripp Harris said the crash made him a better family man.
“Everything that I could think about was the things I was going to miss,” said Harris, 47, of Charlotte. “That fundamentally shifted my priorities.”
Survivor Steve O’Brien, 54, said, “I realize that little things are to be appreciated, that mundane things are what make up your life and that’s the things you’re going to miss if it’s going to be yanked away from you.”
What was supposed to be a routine, two-hour flight from La Guardia Airport to Charlotte turned into a white-knuckle ride of a lifetime for Sullenberger, his crew and the passengers.
The day was cold — about 20 degrees — but the skies were clear.
“What a view of the Hudson today,” Sullenberger remarked to co-pilot Jeff Skiles, according to the National Transportation Safety Board’s report on the crash.
The packed flight was carrying 150 passengers and five crew members when it departed Queens at 3:24 p.m. and steadily climbed to between 2,900 and 3,000 feet.
The youngest on board were Damian, 9 months, and Sofia, 4, who were flying with parents Martin and Tess to visit their grandmother in North Carolina.
The couple was surprised to learn they were seated four rows apart on the flight — Tess with Damian on her lap and Martin with Sofia — and immediately sensed that something was off.
“Nothing prepared us for what was ahead,” the architect and his wife told The Post in 2009.
Immediately after takeoff, the plane jolted to the left — and an explosion rang throughout the cabin. Flames could be seen from the rear, and the acrid odor of burning birds and electronics filled the air.
“What’s that smell? Make that smell go away, Daddy,” Sofia begged her father.
Passengers were unaware at the time that a flock of Canada geese had slammed into the aircraft — blowing out both of its engines. The birds never appeared on the radar of the air-traffic controller who cleared the jet for takeoff.
A heavy silence “like being in a library” blanketed the cabin as passengers struggled to understand what was happening, co-pilot Skiles told the NTSB.
From a distance, Tess and Martin look at each other, knowing it might be for the last time.
In the cockpit, Sullenberger grabbed the controls from his first officer as the plane hurtled toward the earth from more than 3,000 feet over the Bronx Zoo.
“Ah, this is Cactus 1549, we hit birds,” Sullenberger radioed at 3:27 p.m. “We lost thrust in both engines. We’re turning back towards LaGuardia.”
In a steady voice, Sullenberger issued a stern warning to passengers, “This is the captain. Brace for impact.”
The captain then made a split-second decision.
“No, too low. Too slow. Too many buildings. Too populated an area,” Sullenberger said of making an emergency landing at LaGuardia. He also knew the plane didn’t have enough juice to make it to nearby Teterboro Airport in New Jersey.
The radio went silent after Sullenberger made his final call: “We can’t do it. We’re gonna be in the Hudson.”
In a steady voice, he issued a stern warning to passengers, “This is the captain. Brace for impact.”
“You could hear the seriousness in his voice. You could hear the chant of the flight attendants, ‘Brace, heads down!’ ” Kolodjay said.
Flight 1549 smashed into the frigid Hudson at a rate of descent more than three times what it could handle.
The impact was so hard it cracked the fuselage, sending a deluge of water rushing into the rear of the cabin and causing the downed aircraft to swell to 400 tons, more than four times its standard weight when fully loaded.
With the help of another passenger, Tess raced over the seats with Damian in her arms to a life raft, where they were reunited with Martin and Sofia.
Kolodjay stood up and saw the bone-chilling, 36-degree water creep up to his knee. He waded to first class to get on a raft.
“It was a really cold day. I had given my sweatshirt to an older woman,” said Kolodjay, who was en route to Myrtle Beach for an annual golf outing with his father, Rob, and a group of friends. “You didn’t feel the cold. You just had so much adrenaline flowing through your body.”
Freezing cold and shaken from the death-defying touchdown, some of the survivors dotted the wings of the nearly submerged plane as they waited for help to arrive. Others, like Tess and baby Damian, were taken to safety after floating on rafts.
One flight attendant and four passengers were seriously injured. Others mostly suffered bumps, bruises and hypothermia.
“We’ve had a miracle on 34th Street — I believe now we’ve had a miracle on the Hudson,” then-Gov. David Paterson declared at the time.
With his white hair and matching mustache, the heroic water landing turned Capt. “Sully” into an overnight national hero.
He and his crew were recognized for their bravery with the passage of a Congressional resolution, while the made-for-movies ordeal got the Hollywood treatment with 2016’s “Sully,” starring Tom Hanks as the captain.
“It doesn’t get any better than to have Tom Hanks portray you in a movie. I think he was everyone’s first choice,” Sullenberger told ABC News in an interview that’s set to air Tuesday.
Asked what he remembers most from that day, the Texas-born airman said he knew “without engine thrust” and relying just on gravity, the flight was bound for a hard landing.
“My thought right before we touched down was, ‘This is going to be bad,’ ” he said. “But when we stopped in the water and it was obvious that the airplane was intact, stable, and floating, Jeff and I turned to each other and simultaneously said, ‘That wasn’t as bad as I thought!’”
The veteran pilot, 67, whose career includes a stint as an Air Force fighter pilot and gigs as a consultant to NASA and the NTSB, retired from US Airways a year after the Hudson landing.
He currently serves on the US Department of Transportation’s Advisory Committee for Automation in Transportation and still flies privately.
“I just changed professions, not just as a speaker, author, and safety expert, but also as an advocate for the safety of the traveling public, and for safety in every industry,” he said.
He’s even held onto a few mementos from Jan. 15, 2009.
“The weather reports and forecasts, the fuel slip specifying the amount of fuel added for the flight, and my trip sheet, a small piece of paper with the schedule of flights on this four-day trip,” he said.
Survivors will gather at the Carolinas Aviation Museum in Charlotte to commemorate a decade since the crash.
Kolodjay won’t be in attendance — he’ll mark the occasion in his own way.
“My thought was, I would’ve liked to have celebrated that with my dad,” he said of his father, who died from cancer in 2017. “I understand it’ll be a special day. Maybe I’ll take a chance that I may not have taken, push the envelope.”
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