Firefighter describes response to Hudson plane crash

By Jamie Thompson
FireRescue1 Editor

Photo FDNY
FDNY members help to secure the plane in the Hudson River.
View slideshow of the crash scene
NEW YORK — Less than 24 hours after donning his cold water rescue suit to enter the icy waters of the Hudson River, Firefighter Brian McLaughlin was meeting the Mayor of New York.

He was among 12 FDNY members to receive a certificate of honor Friday morning following the dramatic response to the US Airways plane crash.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg heralded the "split second decisions that resulted in a dramatic rescue" during the ceremony acknowledging the role of rescuers.

But for Firefighter McLaughlin, the department's response was all about doing what members are trained to do.

"It was interesting meeting the mayor — but we were just doing our job on Thursday," he said. "We were just making sure people were safe; that's what we do."

Crews dispatched
Firefighter McLaughlin was among the first firefighters on the scene following the call at 15:31 for a plane down in the Hudson River near 45th St. in Manhattan.

"When we got to 42nd Street, we looked and saw the plane floating down, with FDNY and NYPD boats around it and pulled over," Firefighter McLaughlin said.

Spotting a Circle Line tour boat, Engine Captain Paul Lawlor commandeered the vessel with his crew and sped toward the incident scene.

As it neared the stricken plane, Firefighters McLaughlin and Michael Povolny donned their cold water rescue suits and dove into the water.

Working with two police divers, their task was to enter the plane through the front door on the fuselage and search for anyone who had been unable to get out.

"We went down the aisles checking for people in seats or underneath them on the floor," Firefighter McLaughlin said. "The tail end of the plane was submerged, while the front was still in the air.

"There was a lot of luggage and seat cushions floating, so it was quite chaotic in there but we were definitely in control."

Challenging conditions
The responders faced challenging conditions, with the air temperature at about 20 degrees and the water temperature at 36 degrees. Firefighter McLaughlin said they also had to contend with the effects caused by the assorted boats around the scene.

"Because there were a lot of them around the plane, they were causing ripples which made it a little difficult getting into the plane, but we all worked together," he said.

A total of 50 FDNY units and more than 200 fire and EMS members responded to Thursday's incident.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. David Paterson heaped praise on the massive interagency response.

"They train for these kinds of emergencies, and you saw it in action," Bloomberg said. "Because of their fast brave work, we think that contributed to the fact that it looks like everybody is safe."

Paterson said it was a miracle.

"I think that in simplicity, this is really a potential tragedy that may have become one of the most spectacular days in the history of New York City's agencies," he said. 

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