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US Airways Flight 1549 passenger grateful for life -- and data

Recovering his data from online backup systems meant one less thing to worry about

March 31, 2009 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Moments after Paul Jorgensen realized the commercial jet he was aboard was about to land in the Hudson River, he turned to the passenger next to him, grabbed his arm and asked him, "Are we going to die?"

"He looked me square in the eye and he nodded. He didn't say anything. He just shook his head up and down like saying yes, we're going to die," Jorgensen said.

Jorgensen, 38, a vice president of sales at Epocrates Inc., a medical software company, was sitting in a window seat in the first row of the first class section of US Airways Flight 1549 on the afternoon of Thursday, Jan. 15. The other 150 passengers in the plane that had left LaGuardia Airport headed for Charlotte only six minutes earlier were strangely calm and quiet as the aircraft dipped between the skyscrapers of Manhattan and New Jersey.

Only a few of the passengers were talking, and they were communicating in what Jorgensen described as non-panicked voices. He heard one or two saying that the plane must be attempting to head back to the airport.

The plane's aircrew, led by 57-year-old Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger -- a former Air Force fighter pilot -- had already decided that the plane couldn't reach the safety of an airfield and had turned south, away from the George Washington Bridge and over the Hudson River next to Manhattan.

Jorgensen said the aircraft did not buck or pitch -- it smoothly but quickly descended to the water. The fast and even descent was deceiving. Even though Jorgensen used his legs and arms to brace himself with all his might, the impact folded his body in half at the waist, driving his chest into his knees. The crash was so violent that the man seated next to him broke his sternum. Jorgensen was left with a huge bruise on his chest for weeks.

Jorgensen normally didn't fly home on a Thursday, but he wanted to get home for his two-year-old daughter's birthday.
Paul Jorgensen and his daughter Ryan, who turned three the day after the crash.

The now famous ditching of the airplane in the Hudson ended with all 150 passengers and five crew members stepping safely into rescue boats. It left Jorgensen with a new outlook on life and, as an important afterthought, a new appreciation for online data backup systems. Just like other passengers, Jorgensen lost his luggage. He also lost his ThinkPad laptop and two backup hard drives that he always carried in case the laptop crashed.

Jorgensen's group of stranded passengers was picked up by a New Jersey ferry. As the other passengers were loaded onto the ferry, Jorgensen kept busy asking if he could help in any way, but was told, "Dude, chill out. Go inside and relax."



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