January 14, 2010

Heroic boater recalls 'delicate ballet' of plane rescue

When US Airways Flight 1549 splashed down on a frigid Hudson River last year with 150 passengers on board, Scott Koen of Rutherford, N.J., sprang into action.

When US Airways Flight 1549 splashed down on a frigid Hudson River last year with 150 passengers on board, Scott Koen of Rutherford, N.J., sprang into action.

Heralded as one of the first rescuers to reach the airliner that January day, Koen gives a firsthand account in a new book, "Brace for Impact," and writes about how the "Miracle on the Hudson" affected him in the year that followed.

Unveiling that impact was the focus of the book's authors, Dorothy Firman and Kevin Quirk, who see the stories told by Koen and 24 others as a source of inspiration.

We asked Koen about that day and the book, which will be released Friday, the one-year anniversary of the event.

Can you explain that day and how it played out?

It was going to be cold that day, so I wanted to make sure the boat was OK.

I warmed the boat up, made sure it was working OK and charged the battery up before I shut it back down. And right at that point, when the boat was all nice and warm, a voice on the radio said, "Plane down in the north river." So I let the lines go, and I pulled on out to see where it was. I pulled around the corner, and I see this huge tail sticking out of the water.

So I get on over to the aircraft. By that time, there are four New York Waterway ferries, and the New York City Fire Department was there. The ferries, they were having a hard time.

It was like a delicate ballet because the ferries would pull in, but then they would have to start pulling out because you can't see the people you're trying to rescue. So I get up beside the aircraft, and I put my boat right up by the cockpit. And there are two guys on the wing right there. I got on the back of my boat, and I was able to pull one guy up on top of my boat.

He said, "Thank you, thank you, but please save the others." I ended up getting on top of a ferry and climbing down his rescue ladder because there was one guy who was really hypothermic and having a hard time getting up the ladder. So I just started helping people on up.

Explain how the incident affected you the year afterward.

Mostly for me, it wasn't really a transformation. Mostly for me, it was a step and positive energy.

I feel that I am being guided along, and that it was just another thing. For some reason, I read books on how to fly jets and actually have books on what do you do in a water rescue, how you ditch an airplane.

And all of a sudden, one ditches in front of me. Fifteen minutes one way, and 15 minutes the other way, I wouldn't have been on the boat.

Before, the engine wouldn't have been warm. I wouldn't have had the boat started.

And afterward, I would have gone home. So what are the chances? For some reason, things that I learn actually come to fruition. When I learn something, sooner or later, I'll get to use it somehow.

What do you hope people take away from your story?

That they prepare themselves for the eventuality of bad things happening. They always do.

Sooner or later, there is going to be a fire in your house. Sooner or later, someone will become injured.

And it doesn't take too much to learn how to react in those situations.

But if you take that little bit of time and learn, then when that does happen to your loved one, or a total stranger, you'll be able to react in an appropriate manner and be able to help them. A lot of people die needlessly because someone didn't know CPR.

Some people think that's a paranoid way to live. What would you say to that?

It's not really paranoia. It's more wanting to be proactive.

Stuff like that does happen.

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