NASCAR's Amber Wells recounts plane's water landing
It was “divine intervention,” Amber Wells said. A “guiding hand” reaching out.
“I truly believe God saved my life,” she said.
Wells, senior manager of licensed attractions for NASCAR, was one of 155 people on board USAirways Flight 1549 when the passenger jet fell from the sky above New York City and crash-landed in the Hudson River Jan. 15.
Miraculously, no one on the flight, which had just departed LaGuardia Airport and was headed to Charlotte, was seriously injured.
Wells was part of a NASCAR delegation returning home after business meetings in the city, but was the only one from her group scheduled to depart on that particular flight.
Shortly after its 3:26 p.m. EST departure, disaster struck.
From her window seat in row 20 on the right side of the plane, Wells said she could see the engine beneath the right wing when it exploded.
“I travel ... quite a bit and I always count to 120 during takeoffs,” Wells said in a telephone interview Jan. 18. “I know when we’re in the air for two minutes, everything will be fine.
“I was at 90 seconds and I saw the engine explode and smoke start pouring out. Right then, I thought, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’”
Pilot Chesley Sullenberger reported a “double bird strike” and immediately requested permission to return to LaGuardia.
As the Airbus A320 descended from the sky, just above the Hudson, Wells said she wasn’t aware of the possibility of a water landing.
“I thought we were headed back to the airport,” she said. “There was no sudden drop, just a slow descent. Then the pilot said, ‘Brace for impact!’ and everybody bent over, resting their heads on their knees.”
She recalled hearing fellow travelers prayers in hushed tones, and was praying herself when the plane struck the water.
“I can’t remember [the impact]. I don’t know if I’ve blocked it out or not,” she said, “but I don’t remember hitting the water.”
She does, however, remember the frantic minutes that followed. As the plane, still intact, came to a stop and began to slowly submerge in the icy waters, Wells said everyone inside began grabbing life preservers and seat cushions as they moved quickly to get out of the plane.
“When I opened my eyes, I looked around and said, ‘I’m alive.’ Then I saw my coat and computer bag floating and realized, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m in water! We’re going to sink!’” she said.
Although the rear exit was closer, a problem opening that door sent passengers hurrying toward the front of the plane. It was, she believes, another sign of intervention.
“The back of the plane was lower in the water,” she said, “and if they had opened that door, then water would have filled the cabin.”
Emergency crews and commuter ferries were quickly on the scene, assisting passengers who had made their way out onto the plane’s wings as well as those in inflatable rafts.
The ordeal, Wells said, “happened so fast. But the entire time it was going on, I never thought, ‘I’m going to die.’
“Don’t get me wrong. There was a sense of fear; I was crazy scared. But I just had a [sense of] peace. That’s what I remember ... I’ve never felt that way and I can’t find the right words to describe it.”
Wells said she “can’t say enough about the NASCAR family, their concern and comfort ... making sure I was taken care of and that I got home safely. They’ve just shown unbelievable support.”
The incident won’t stop her from air travel, in part because there was no malfunction, no maintenance problem on which to place blame, she said. “It was just so uncontrollable.”
That doesn’t mean she’s already put the accident behind her, however. Returning home the following day, she only had one request.
“I asked the pilot,” she said, “to tell me when we were above bird level.” Scenedaily.com