Fac­ing fear and crash flash­backs

Sur­vivors go back to the Hud­son River in New York to try to heal the wounds of their trau­matic air-crash ex­pe­ri­ence last year

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE -

MONTHS af­ter the crash, Doreen Welsh had a panic at­tack when she in­haled a lit­tle wa­ter in the shower. Anas­ta­sia Sosa no longer finds swim­ming fun – it feels too much like sur­vival train­ing. And Jorge Mor­gado can’t bring him­self to get back on a plane.

A year af­ter the 155 peo­ple aboard the crip­pled US Air­ways Flight 1549 sur­vived a splash-land­ing on the frigid Hud­son River, some are suf­fer­ing the psy­cho­log­i­cal af­ter­ef­fects of their ter­ri­fy­ing de­scent and har­row­ing evac­u­a­tion.

While many have spo­ken of a new-found ap­pre­ci­a­tion for life and a fo­cus on fam­ily, some also are strug­gling to re­gain their emo­tional bal­ance.

“It was a real break­ing point for me,” said Sosa, who be­lieved her hus­band and two young chil­dren would die with her.

In what be­came known as the Mir­a­cle on the Hud­son, Cap­tain Ch­es­ley “Sully” Sul­len­berger ditched his Air­bus A320 in the river on Jan­uary 15 last year, af­ter a col­li­sion with a flock of birds dis­abled the air­craft’s en­gines.

Yes­ter­day, the an­niver­sary, some of the sur­vivors took a boat out to the place where they were pulled – soaked and freez­ing – from the wa­ter, and at the mo­ment of im­pact they raised their glasses in a toast.

Re­turn­ing to the river wasn’t easy for Welsh. One of three flight at­ten­dants on Flight 1549, she re­mem­bers be­ing sec­onds away from drown­ing as wa­ter gushed into the rear of the air­craft, reach­ing all the way to her chin.

Even now, she is afraid of wa­ter. One day, six or seven months af­ter the crash, she in­haled some wa­ter in the shower and had a full-scale panic at­tack, ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the evac­u­a­tion again. She has been di­ag­nosed with post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der.

Her ther­a­pist has her do­ing shower ex­er­cises in which she takes in­creas­ing amounts of wa­ter into her mouth.

When she takes a bub­ble bath, she prac­tises putting her head un­der.

She has re­turned, un­easily, to fly­ing, but not to work.

She still hasn’t de­cided whether to go back to her job. She has yet to wear her uni­form, which was shred­ded and blood­ied.

She has made a de­ci­sion: she won’t be seek­ing cos­metic surgery to hide the prom­i­nent scar left on her leg from the gash she suf­fered that day.

“When I look at it, it gives me that jolt to be grate­ful, and maybe I need that. It just brings me back to ‘I’m just grate­ful I’m here and I’m happy I lived through all that’.”

Once an avid swim­mer, the 41-year-old Sosa has stopped her near-daily trips to the pool. The East Hamp­ton woman said swim­ming re­minded her of car­ry­ing her baby son to safety, of looking back and see­ing her hus­band chest-deep in the flooded cabin, hoist­ing their fouryear-old daugh­ter above the ris­ing wa­ter, of think­ing they wouldn’t make it out.

Mor­gado has yet to get on a plane again.

“I know once I get on, they close that door and you’re strapped in your seat, you’re in, you’re not go­ing any­where.

“The flash­backs will still come,” said the 33-year-old floor­ing com­pany owner, who was on a golf trip when the plane went down.

“What hap­pened will al­ways be there.”

Still, he in­sisted, it’s only a mat­ter of time: “At one point I’m just go­ing to suck it up and do it.”

The fa­ther of three has set a dead­line for him­self.

He and his wife are plan­ning a fam­ily trip from their home to Dis­ney World 18 months from now.

Many sur­vivors, in­clud­ing Mark Hood, speak mostly about the pos­i­tive out­look they gained from their brush with death. In the past year, the sales­man has spo­ken to more than 50 church and civic groups about the ex­pe­ri­ence.

“There is re­ally, re­ally noth­ing in life to fear,” he said.

“I feel like ev­ery day is a bonus, no mat­ter how dif­fi­cult the prob­lems that are thrown at you or at me.” But even Hood, who said he was al­ways stoic and guarded be­fore the crash, is some­times sur­prised by the lin­ger­ing ef­fects.

Dur­ing his chil­dren’s high school grad­u­a­tion party, the for­mer Marine sud­denly felt dizzy and had to put his hand against the wall to steady him­self.

“All I could think about was this en­tire party would be hap­pen­ing without me if things had turned out dif­fer­ently on the 15th,” he said.

The sur­vivors of Flight 1549 have re­turned home to their fam­i­lies, and many have gone back to their jobs.

Some par­tic­i­pate in an e-mail group, shar­ing their progress and their thoughts.

Two sur­vivors, Laura Zych and Ben Bos­tic, have fallen in love.

The group sur­prised some ob­servers with what they have cho­sen not to do: no one on board the

‘There is re­ally, re­ally noth­ing in life to fear. I feel like ev­ery day is a bonus, no mat­ter how dif­fi­cult the prob­lems’

plane has sued the air­line.

“Amaz­ing,” said Justin Green, an at­tor­ney with Kreindler & Kreindler, a law firm that spe­cialises in air dis­as­ters.

Sheila Dail, an­other of the flight at­ten­dants, at first was em­bar­rassed af­ter ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a panic at­tack.

Then she de­cided to turn her anx­i­ety into some­thing pos­i­tive: she got cer­ti­fied in cri­sis man­age­ment and is train­ing to help other flight at­ten­dants cope with trauma.

Sosa, for her part, stays home more, ner­vous about driv­ing.

When she does get on the road, she is hy­per­vig­i­lant, ready in case some­thing goes wrong.

She did take a flight with her daugh­ter, but the girl turned bright red from anx­i­ety on the de­scent.

De­spite their fears, her fam­ily re­turned to the river to mark the an­niver­sary be­cause of the other sur­vivors, who had been a source of sup­port, she said.

Welsh said she was there, too, hop­ing to con­quer her fears.

“I’m was not stand­ing any­where on the edge,” she said with a laugh.

“I am the per­son stand­ing as far to the mid­dle as you can get.” – Sapa-AP


AT­TRACTED: Crash sur­vivors Laura Zych and Ben Bos­tic look over the Hud­son River.

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