Originally published 01-16-2009
Drag Racing at 200 MPH Accident Free; Plane Presents First High Speed Crash
Chris Rini always assumed the chances of crashing in his ATI-sponsored Top Sportsman Dodge Stratus outweighed those of being in a plane crash. He assumed wrong.
Rini was one of 155 people aboard US. Airways Flight 1549, New York to Charlotte, which crashed into the Hudson River on Thursday afternoon.
“I’ve never even crashed in the quarter-mile although I’ve come close,” Rini said, in an exclusive interview with CompetitionPlus.com. “I’ve had instances like the time I raced at Mooresville Dragway and the parachutes didn’t deploy at 170 MPH. Nothing was like what I experienced on Thursday afternoon.”
“Besides I figured if I ever ended up in a plane crash that I wouldn’t live to tell about it.”
Rini was en route to Charlotte, N.C. to visit engine builder Charlie Buck when the plane crashed. He was going to check on the progress of a new engine and had plans to possibly get it close to testing on the dyno.
Initially he wasn’t supposed to be on the fateful flight, but a last minute opening for the flight from New York’s La Guardia airport moved up his schedule. He was originally scheduled for an 8:00 PM flight on Thursday.
“It was just a weekend trip for me,” Rini added.
Rini has rehashed the details of the accident many times over the last 24 hours, including an interview on Fox News.
The flight, Rini said, began with a routine take-off and he admitted to falling asleep before the doors were shut at the gate. His nap was abruptly interrupted by an engine explosion.
“I was five or six rows behind the engine when it exploded,” Rini explained. “It didn’t just stop running … it kaboom exploded and shook the whole airplane. It flamed up and I was sitting in the middle seat and the guy on the window told me not to panic because the fire had gone out.”
Rini believed that since they had lost one motor the plane would just U-turn and return to the airport. What he didn’t know is the other engine had been lost too.
The engine damage is being blamed on a flock of birds that flew into the plane disabling both engines.
“I saw just a little panic in the crew people but they were quiet,” Rini continued. “Inside, the plane got a little loud and they [flight crew] told us to calm down and to tighten our belts as tight as possible. Then they told us the deal to put your head between your legs … the kiss your ass goodbye deal.”
Rini never really believed the plane was going to crash, even at that point. He dismissed their actions as standard protocol.
“I really thought they were just overreacting,” Rini said. “I’ve been on so many planes and you rarely listen to that safety information.”
He started to change his thought process when the cabin began to fill with smoke. The plane made a hard left turn.
“I started to get concerned at that point,” Rini admitted. “We were dropping lower and lower in altitude. We were lower than some of the buildings and the George Washington Bridge looked so close that you could reach out and touch it.”
Rini remembered the nose of the plane moving upward and about 150 feet from ground, U.S. Airways pilot Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger III spoke over the PA system and commanded, “Prepare for impact.”
Rini said this was the first time he’d heard from the pilot throughout the ordeal.
“Obviously he had his hands full, and he did a phenomenal job,” Rini said.
“But when he said for us to prepare for impact in a monotone, I said to myself, ‘No way.’”
Rini still didn’t believe the plane was going to crash when the harsh reality set in.
The tail of the plane, he explained, struck the water first and the plane initially bounced before the nose dug in.
“I thought we were going to flip end over end,” Rini said. “I figured we were going to turn sideways and then we might flip too. The pilot did an excellent job.”
The deafening silence once the plane stopped was something that got Rini’s attention. Seeing water around his feet before he could unlatch his seatbelt was another.
“There was no screaming or anything and it stayed quiet until the plane started taking on water, which was almost instantly, and then that’s when the chaos started,” he said. “People were screaming to get out while others were climbing over the seats.”
The back of the plane where Rini was seated took on the most water the quickest. He was seated in row 21B of a 32-row Airbus 320.
“We couldn’t get the back emergency doors open,” Rini said. “We had a pile of people trying to get out the back and those by the door started screaming for us to go the other way.”
Rini admitted, at this point, he wondered whether he was going to make it or not.
“I thought to myself that I had survived the crash and now I was going to drown,” he explained. “The landing was ugly but the getting out was worse.”
Rini followed a group out of the plane onto the wing but realized this portion of the plane was submerging at a rapid rate. Adding to the dismal situation, in the haste of evacuation, he’d forgotten to grab a life vest.
“There were already thirty people on the left side where I was and it was ten inches underwater at that point,” Rini said. “I began wondering why I wanted to stand there when I was going to eventually end up treading water. The water was below freezing.”
Rini glanced to the front of the plane where the flight crew was inflating rafts and he re-entered the fuselage and joined the crew with the rafts.
“The plane was pretty much emptied out at that point,” Rini said. “There were some stragglers and a few shook up but I just walked up there and got on a raft which was the second one which had deployed on that side. I actually got off with the pilot’s crew.”
Rini said he and the rest of the survivors floated on the raft for about 15 minutes before the first of the ferries arrived for a search and rescue mission.
“Everyone had calmed down at that point,” Rini said. “That’s when the reality of the cold set it. It was really freaking cold. I had already gotten wet sliding off the plane to get onto the raft. I was wet up to my hips.”
Rini was eventually loaded onto a rescue ship and transported to the Manhattan travel terminal where he was provided the opportunity the talk with the pilot and offer his gratitude.
Rini was offered a flight for today to travel to Charlotte from U.S. Airways but declined.
“I’m driving down there the next time,” Rini said with a laugh.
Rini said the experience will not deter him from flying in the future but will provide a new appreciation for the details, such as the safety announcements.
“I feel very fortunate to have survived this,” Rini said. “I feel very fortunate to have survived but even more fortunate that I was not physically injured.”
Rini spent much of Friday discussing his experience with the Fox News staff and plans to visit the chiropractor this afternoon in hopes he can remedy a sore back. He also has a jammed thumb.
“If this is as bad as the injuries were, I’d say I came out on the lucky end of things,” Rini surmised.