On a Wing and a Prayer: Robert Morris University On a Wing and a Prayer | Robert Morris University

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WRITTEN BY  VALENTINE J. BRKICH

On January 15, at 3:25 p.m., Luther Lockhart '99 was seated in the back of U.S. Airways Flight 1549 as it lifted off from New York City's LaGuardia Airport. Bound for Charlotte, N.C., the 32-year-old personal trainer from Queens was looking forward to a little getaway in warmer climes to visit friends and family.

Less than 10 minutes later, he was soaked to the bone and standing on the wing of the plane as it floated in the frigid waters of the Hudson River.

Lockhart, a former media arts major and running back for the Colonials football team, was one of the 155 lucky passengers
to survive the ill-fated flight, thanks to the efforts of Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger and the rest of the plane's crew.

"There wasn't a single person on that plane who didn't think their life was over," says Lockhart. "It was an out-of-body experience. You know the statistics. You know the odds of survival are slim to none."

About two minutes after taking off, Flight 1549 struck a flock of geese at about 3,000 feet. "I didn't feel the plane hit the birds," says Lockhart. "I heard a loud bang, and once that happened, it was very quiet. You knew the engines were off."

Shortly thereafter, a burning smell filled the cabin, and the flight attendants went into action. "They were kind of frantic but controlled," he says. "They went back and forth, looking around to check the inside of the plane. They didn't say much, just told us to stay in our seats. I knew something was wrong when I didn't hear any engines."

While the flight crew checked the cabin, the passengers talked among themselves. Everyone looked anxious. Some were quiet, others were hysterical. "The majority of people were panicking," says Lockhart. "Some were praying, others were screaming, children were crying. It wasn't all calm as the media tried to portray it. "

"We were pretty much waiting to die," he says. "I was ready to go. I was in a good place before it happened, and I was very content with my life. "If this is it," I said, "then so be it. Just let it happen quickly." I didn't necessarily want to go that way, but I accepted it."

When Capt. Sullenberger concluded that the airliner would be unable to return to the airport or any other airfield, he turned the plane southbound and looked for a place to ditch in the Hudson River. After gliding without engines for about eight miles, the pilot was able to put the Airbus A320 down successfully in the river.

"The landing was not smooth," says Lockhart. "It may have looked smooth on video, but believe me, it wasn't." It felt like they were landing on concrete, he says, and the entire plane shook vigorously before coming to a halt.

"Immediately after we landed, I thought the plane would blow up, rip apart, I'd be burned to death, game over." As soon as the plane hit the river, the icy water came rushing in and was soon waist deep in the back of the plane. "I got up, grabbed a seat cushion and climbed over seats," says Lockhart. "Everyone was crowding the center aisle. I wasn't thinking about being orderly, I was trying to get the hell out of there."

Lockhart was the sixth person out on the left wing. "I probably should have been one of the last," he says. "But my adrenaline was going, and I only had one thing on my mind: getting out of that plane."

Since the crash, Lockhart's life has been hectic at times. But he says it hasn't changed who he is. "I'm not a 'why me' type of person," says Lockhart. "I'm no better than any other human being. There are reasons for everything and I would never question the will of God. As the plane was going down, what I was really worried about was how my family would handle it."

Lockhart was back to work in Manhattan the following week. And although the questions and interviews got a little tiresome after awhile, pretty soon his life was back to normal, or as close to normal as he could get.

Before the crash, Lockhart had some travel plans for the summer that he's now postponing. "I'm not ready to get back up in the air anytime soon. It's a healing process, and I hope to be back up flying soon. I want to see the world one day, and hopefully I'll get back to a point where I'll be comfortable flying again."

Luther Lockhart is a personal trainer in Manhattan, N.Y. Visit his website at www.lifestylefitness.us