WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (AP) — The pilot who safely landed her sputtering six-seater in the icy Hudson River says Chesley Sullenberger’s “miracle on the Hudson” gave her confidence as her plane dropped toward the water.
“I thought of Sully,” Deniece De Priester said Thursday to The Associated Press. “He did a good job, let me try to make another good job of it.”
In 2009, Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger III safely landed a US Airways flight on the Hudson after striking a flock of geese. All 155 people aboard survived.
De Priester said she wasn’t “terribly worried” about the landing, but “I was concerned by how long we would be in the water.”
Her experience with gliders helped her position the plane as it lost altitude Sunday evening.
“It was falling, well, not like a brick, but 400 feet a minute, and we were only at 1,200 feet to start with,” she said. “I instantly pulled the nose up so we were gliding down.”
“I was pretty sure about my aviation skills and I had a lot of faith about the universe,” said De Priester, 39, a native of the Netherlands who lives in East Windsor, N.J.
As they descended, she guided the plane from the shoreline out over the river, but not to the middle.
“I didn’t want to be too far from shore,” she said.
Distress calls went unanswered, she said, and she feared no one would know where they were. Her first call was to the man she lives with, saying “Don’t panic, we’re going to make a water landing.”
Her passenger, Christopher Smidt, also called home first, but he then called 911.
“He made sure we would be found,” De Priester said. “He was my hero.”
Smidt said Tuesday that De Priester deserved all the credit.
A boatload of Yonkers police officers, plus the 12-year-old son of one of them, pulled the De Priester and Smidt out of the icy river after 20-30 minutes.
Unlike Smidt, De Priester said the cold water did not immediately affect her.
“I didn’t feel anything because my adrenalin was pumping so high,” she said. “It was really like I was swimming in the tropics. I was going to swim to shore, no problem.”
By the time she was rescued, however, “The cold was starting to kick in. I felt numb, I couldn’t move anymore.”
She said she still has some numbness in two fingers and under one arm, “but they say it will go away.” She says the accident hasn’t wrecked her dream of forming a flight club, but she’ll have to wait for the insurance money before buying a new plane.
“I was so sorry to see that plane, blub, blub, blub, sinking in the river,” she said.
De Priester says she has an idea about what went wrong, but can’t say publicly until government investigations are over.
“There was a mechanical failure of some sort,” she said. The motor was sputtering and we lost thrust.”
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