Tension, relief at Charlotte Douglas International Airport

Jan 16, 2009

More than two-thirds of the 150 passengers rescued from the U.S. Airways plane that landed in the Hudson River yesterday were bound for Charlotte. What could have been a tragedy for the country and an especially heavy one for the Charlotte area was instead deemed a miracle. Fred Baretta from Weddington was a passenger on flight 1549. He told All Things Considered yesterday that the rescue worked flawlessly. "We survived the crash and then you're thinking this is going down pretty quickly. We're going to all be in the water. And you just hoped the boats were going to get there soon. And they did. It was remarkable," explained Baretta. Meanwhile at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, people expecting to pick-up family and friends headed in from New York were instead ushered into a room with counselors and refreshments on hand. U.S. Airways flight 1549 should have pulled into a gate at Charlotte Douglas International Airport around 5 o'clock last night. Instead, a handful of the airline's agents were looking for people who may have not heard the news that that wasn't going to happen and showed up at the airport expecting to welcome friends and family. U.S. Airways staff escorted them into a special area of the airport. By that time, things we're looking fairly promising for those rescued from the jet and the cold water of the Hudson River. Pamela Jefsen, the head of the Greater Carolinas Chapter of the Red Cross says five people gathered in the room waiting for word from their friend or loved one and updates from the airline. "It was really a cheerful atmosphere. Everyone's just so grateful that there weren't any casualties," says Jeffsen. Jefsen and five other Red Cross staff came to the airport ready to offer counseling, food and child care. They toted a box of medical supplies and another one filled with stuffed animals. No one needed medicine, but Jefsen says the toys did offer a welcomed distraction for one small boy and his mother. "Giving him a teddy bear and just making sure he was entertained and making sure she was okay," explained Jefsen. Around eight last night, the evening rush of flights from New York's LaGuardia airport and New Jersey's Newark airport began arriving in Charlotte. Nelson List stood in baggage claim waiting for his wife Sandy to come home from her business trip in New York. She works for Bank of America and frequently makes the trip between New York and Charlotte. Usually she flies in and out of LaGuardia-the airport flight 1549 departed from-but she accidentally booked yesterday's flight from Newark. That mistake saved the couple some desperate moments. When Sandy finally arrived, the two hugged each other for nearly a minute, as reporters surrounded them. "Just glad she's home. Glad she's safe. I'm glad everybody else is safe. You know there was 155 lives on that plane and we're just glad they're all safe," said Nelson List. Sandy List said many of her co-workers were on that flight that landed in the Hudson River. After a day of worry and phone calls, she said she just wanted to get home. "I'm going to crash," sighed Sandy. "I have a bottle of champagne," said Nelson. "All right. I'm going to sleep tonight. I think I might take a long shower and go to sleep," decided Sandy. Many other business travelers coming in from New York last night said they knew people on flight 1549 and were relieved that what could have gone so wrong did not. One woman arriving from La Guardia couldn't find her bags. But she said knowing all that happened yesterday, she didn't much care.