Close enough — and cold enough — for me

Published 7:30 pm Monday, November 10, 2014

Early one morning at the end of 2008, I caught a taxi from our small rental home in the Sydney suburbs to Kingsford-Smith Airport.

Three hours later, I boarded a flight that would be one of many flights during the next four weeks.

On a tight budget, we’d strung together five flights to get me to Hampton Roads: Sydney-Fiji, Fiji-Los Angeles, LA-Charlotte, Charlotte-Atlanta, Atlanta-Newport News.

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My then-fiancé was already in the United States, having traveled back a month or so before me.

After our wedding — our reason for the visit — we caught a flight from Washington, D.C., to New York, hitching a ride there with friends who’d driven down for our big day.

We honeymooned there for four days, before returning to Australia together via a slightly better flight schedule.

So it was only a week after we left New York that probably the most miraculous tale of survival following an air disaster unfolded above and on the Hudson River.

Back in Sydney barely long enough to shake the jetlag, waking one morning to news of Flight 1549’s ditching onto the river, with 155 occupants and no loss of life, was just a little erie.

That was the same river we’d traveled across on the Staten Island Ferry, to see the Statue of Liberty, a short-enough time ago that I could I still feel the cold wind knifing into us as we stood on the deck.

So it was a blast from the past when the last passenger off Flight 1549 spoke about his experience to a Suffolk audience at Lake Prince Woods on Friday.

Dave Sanderson, now a sought-after speaker and author, spoke a good deal about that cold, having swam for it from the wing of a stricken aircraft he thought was finally sinking, to the closest vessel on the Hudson.

My blood was probably still on the thin side, having traveled from 100-degree-plus heat a few weeks earlier, and I had no prior experience with New York winters, but the city had seemed plenty cold to me that winter.

No wonder Sanderson’s hypothermia, according to medical staff at the time, placed him at risk of imminent heart attack or stroke.

When it ditched, Flight 1549 was en route from LaGuardia to Charlotte — the same route my wife and I traveled a week earlier.

I hope that’s as close as we ever get going down on an airliner.