‘Hudson’ survivor visits Searcy to support United Way

Carol Rolf/Contributing Writer Published August 13, 2017 at 12:00 a.m.
0 Comments A A Font Size
Carol Rolf

Dave Sanderson, the last passenger off U.S. Airways Flight 1549, addresses members of the media Aug. 3 prior to the 2018 United Way of White County Kickoff Dinner at Harding University. Sanderson shared bits and pieces of his story about “The Miracle on the Hudson” before addressing approximately 300 people gathered for the dinner in the Founders’ Room at the university.

— Moments matter.

That’s the message Dave Sanderson shared Aug. 3 at a news conference at Harding University’s Heritage Center prior to the kickoff dinner for the United Way of White County’s 2018 campaign.

Moments Matter is also the title of a book by Sanderson, who was the last passenger off U.S. Airways Flight 1549 that crashed into the Hudson River near Manhattan, New York, on Jan. 15, 2009. That crash has become known as “The Miracle on the Hudson” and was the subject of the 2016 movie Sully, starring Tom Hanks.

Sanderson, 56, was the keynote speaker at the United Way dinner Aug. 3.

Since the crash, Sanderson, of Charlotte, North Carolina, has spoken numerous times in support of the American Red Cross, an organization that sent workers to assist him and the other survivors of the crash. The local Red Cross chapter is among the 16 nonprofit organizations that receive funding from the United Way of White County.

In the eight years since the crash, Sanderson has worked full time as an inspirational/motivational speaker through his own company, Dave Sanderson Speaks Enterprise. Prior to the crash, he was a sales executive.

“I am happy to be here in Searcy,” he said, noting that his father, [the late Keith Sanderson], lived in Searcy for several years, and Dave’s aunt [Phyllis Behrens] still lives in the city. “I am here to support the United Way,” which, Sanderson said, serves people every moment of the day.

Sanderson said the first sign of trouble on the airplane that carried 155 passengers from New York City’s LaGuardia Airport to Charlotte Douglas Airport in Charlotte, North Carolina, was the sound of a loud explosion, then the words from the captain, “Brace for impact.”

“The captain was able to manage … control … his mind. He got us over the George Washington Bridge, and we started to descend [toward the river]. I was in seat 15-A. I looked out as we went over the bridge, and I could see people looking up at us,” Sanderson said.

“I was praying. We were in a dire situation. I thought, ‘Nobody survives a plane crash on the water,’” he said.

“I saw a movie of my life pass. … My last thought was, ‘I hope my wife pays off the mortgage.’ … We still haven’t paid it off,” Sanderson said, laughing.

“I felt no fear on the way down,” he said. “I was reconciled. I knew I was going to a better place, or I was going back to where I was. I felt an amazing calmness. I had no control.

“That’s what I teach people now in my seminars. … I teach them how to manage their minds. Then if, or when, you are in a crisis, you won’t lose it. … I did not lose it.”

Sanderson also teaches teamwork and leadership in his seminars.

“Capt. [Chesley B. “Sully”] Sullenberger was focused only on the outcome … getting that plane down with zero casualties,” Sanderson said. “I was thinking, ‘Manage yourself, and get through this.’ Don’t question yourself. … Make a decision and execute.”

Sanderson said that after the plane hit the water, “water came in as much as ankle- to waist-high. It was up to my knees. I knew we had to get out … quick,” he said.

“Some of the seat backs were broken, and passengers were tearing them down, placing them on the floor and walking on them to get out,” he said, adding that was his intent as well.

“Then I heard an elderly lady in the back. … She needed help,” he said. “I went to help her … stayed to help others. I heard my mother’s voice … ‘Do the right thing, and God will take care of you.’” Sanderson’s mother, Emma Sanderson, died several years ago.

“I did the right thing. … I stayed to help others,” Sanderson said, adding that he did not know he was the last passenger out of the plane until an interview later on Good Morning America.

He said there was no room for him to get out until others were off the plane.

“I stood in the plane for seven minutes in knee-deep, 36-degree water, but I knew it was the right choice for me to make. I knew I had to help others first,” Sanderson said.

“It was really phenomenal that we all got out alive. It was a total team effort. I am honored to have been a part of it,” he said.

“God’s hands were all over this,” Sanderson said.

“I have been able to open up about this. … That’s helped me deal with it,” he said. “Some of the other passengers have not been able to do that. … They’ve focused on the negative, not the positive.

“That’s why I give time back to the United Way and the Red Cross. I give thanks to them for all they did that day and continue to do.

“I choose to give back to people.”

Pat Downs, executive director of the United Way of White County, said the nonprofit organization does not normally schedule guest speakers such as Sanderson to kick off its campaign season.

“I heard him speak at a Red Cross luncheon in Little Rock,” Downs said.

“Oh, my goodness. I laughed a while and cried a while as I listened to him. What an impact that crash has made on his life. … What an impact he now makes on other people’s lives,” she said.

“I thought, ‘I have to find a way to get him to Searcy,’” Downs said, smiling.

“So this year, when we were discussing the 2018 campaign, I told [campaign chairman] James Horton that I had an idea for something different for the kickoff,” Downs said. The board agreed. Downs called Sanderson and asked if he would consider coming to Searcy to speak.

“He graciously accepted our invitation to speak,” Downs said, adding that they agreed on a speaker’s fee that was satisfactory to all. For more information on Sanderson, visit his website, davesandersonspeaks.com.

Downs said the United Way, as well as other nonprofits, has been struggling the past few years to raise money.

“Our donations are down. The economy has been down. … People are struggling with their own lives. We are a small town in a small rural county. Our needs are great,” she said.

“The United Way is unique in that when you give to the United Way, your contribution is spread over 16 agencies,” said Downs, who has been with the agency 28 years. “When you donate to the United Way, you touch so many people.”

Downs said there are a lot of organizations working to help the people of White County.

“We are all working for the same thing,” she said. “We are united in our efforts to help those in need in this county. The decisions the United Way makes are made locally, and all but 1 percent of the money raised stays here.”

Horton said the goal for the 2018 campaign is $400,000.

“That’s the same as it was last year,” he said. “The difference is, we are going to make it this year.”

In addition to the American Red Cross, other agencies under the umbrella of the United Way of White County include the Boy Scouts of America, Court Appointed Special Advocates of White County, the Child Safety Center of White County, the Girl Scouts of the USA, Jacob’s Place, the Literacy Council of White County, Newhope Specialized Industries, Special Olympics, the Sunshine School, the White County 4-H Foundation, the White County Aging Program, White County Domestic Violence Prevention and Rape Crisis, White County Group Homes, the White County Single Parent Scholarship Fund and the Wilbur D. Mills Center.

Horton said the United Way of White County raises the majority of its money through payroll deductions at the workplace. Private donations are welcome as well.

Donny Gray, president of the United Way of White County, said some companies donate matching funds to those made by their employees.

“We like to take advantage of those matching funds,” Gray said, smiling.

For more information on the United Way of White County, call (501) 268-7489 or visit www.unitedwayofwhitecounty.org.

To report abuse or misuse of this area please hit the "Suggest Removal" link in the comment to alert our online managers. Read our Terms of Use policy.

Subscribe Register Login

You must login to make comments.