NEW YORK–Carl Bazarian said he and other passengers on board the Charlotte-bound US Airways Flight 1549 "knew we were going to die" yesterday afternoon when they realized that the jetliner was descending into the Hudson River.
But within momen’s their fortunes reversed, as all 150 passengers and five crew members safely climbed out of the floating aircraft and awaited rescue.
"We evacuated and everyone helped each other out. It was like one big family," Bazarian said. "A near-tragic occurrence turned into a very positive humanitarian experience."
Bazarian, an active member of the Armenian Church and the vice chairman of the Fund for Armenian Relief’s Board of Directors, was traveling via Charlotte to his home in Florida on Thursday, January 15.
About four minutes after takeoff from LaGuardia Airport in New York, Bazarian said, there was a loud noise followed by fire and smoke. Passengers were "upset, but we weren’t panicky or overly concerned," he said, explaining that people assumed the pilot would return to LaGuardia.
Instead, Captain Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger III warned passengers to prepare for impact–and "Boom, we hit the water," Bazarian said.
"For about 10 or 11 seconds it’s surreal, but then adrenaline kicks in," Mr. Bazarian said. Evacuees lined up along the plane’s wings and waited to be brought to shore. Those standing on the left wing were ferried to New York. Passengers on the right wing, including Bazarian, were taken to New Jersey.
Many were standing without winter coats in the frigid air. Bazarian said he was wet up to his knees as the water rose around the Airbus A320.
Still, the general mood was calm and optimistic.
"I had a good feeling when we were on the wing that we had a good chance of surviving," Bazarian said.
The "shared experience, belief in each other, and trust" brought people together, he added. Women and children boarded the lifeboats first, followed by the other passengers.
"It was tense, but there was no screaming or yelling or panic," Bazarian said.
Officials are still investigating the crash, but initial reports said collision with a flock of birds caused the engines to fail. Bazarian said once passengers exited the plane, many thanked the pilot for the expert landing.
Bazarian returned to LaGuardia yesterday evening and took another flight to Charlotte. He arrived in Florida this morning.
"Carl is such a fine man, such an excellent leader, and we are grateful to God for rescuing him and all the passengers on that plane," said Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern).
Bazarian said his faith offered comfort amidst the tumult. He was halfway through the Lord’s Prayer when the plane hit water.
"It’s good to have faith in God," he said. "And it worked."