NEW YORK–Barry Leonard is a regular on US Airways flight 1549, from LaGuardia Airport back to his home in Charlotte, N.C.
But there was nothing regular at all about that flight two weeks ago on Jan. 15 when Leonard, long-time industry veteran and president of Ex-Cell and Croscill, along with 154 other people landed not at Douglas International Airport in Charlotte, but in the middle of the Hudson River.
Leonard, along with everyone else, survived the crash, in a miraculous combination of pilot skill, advantageous rescue logistics and just good old dumb luck. But he does have a cracked sternum and a whopper of a story as reminders of a once-in-a-lifetime (hopefully) experience.
“I heard the impact on the engines and then it sounded like tennis shoes rolling around a dryer. I could smell the smoke,” said Leonard, speaking from his Charlotte home recently, where he was recuperating.
“I remember when we were getting ready to hit the water feeling completely at peace. Then we hit and the landing was unlike any I’ve ever had before. I didn’t think a jet could glide. ”
Seated in the first row, Leonard was the first person out of the plane once the flight attendant opened the front door. With the raft not yet deployed, he went into the frigid water. “I swam out for about a minute and looked at the coast of New Jersey and I realized I was not going to make it to there. I said to myself that I had maybe five minutes in the water and that’s it. I think I was in the water for about two minutes.”
He swam back to the plane and got on a raft. “The co-pilot gave me his shirt because I was soaked and freezing and then when the ferries came to rescue us, everyone starting thanking me and saying what a great job I had done. Everyone thought I was the pilot.”
Leonard had enormous praise for the real pilot. “I’ve flown with him a number of times. He was amazing.”
Leonard spent several days in a New Jersey hospital and then flew home with his wife Sherri, who had come up to be with him. That first night home, Leonard said, “We pulled out a monster bottle of wine.”
Leonard is back at work in New York this week and set to fly home for the weekend. He is expecting a normal flight.