Behind the Headlines

The Survivors Speak

Many lauded the quick thinking and heroism of US Airways pilot Chesley Sullenberger, who landed his plane in the icy Hudson River without any fatalities.


Although passengers of Flight 1549 are lucky to be alive, some say they struggle with lingering psychological issues. Brad is one such person. "I'm sitting in 21C. Take-off was smooth and then bang," he recounts. "The plane began to shake, the lights began to dim. I heard people screaming, ‘There's a fire on the plane.' We were coming down."

The next thing Brad remembers is his plane rapidly descending over the Hudson River. "The pilot came over the PA and said, ‘Prepare for impact.' When you're about to die, things slow down. I looked around, and everybody was having their own little moment. The woman next to me put her hand on her husband's hand. The stewardess kept saying, ‘Get your head down for impact.' I just kept saying to myself, this is it. I said goodbye to my family. I said, ‘Lord, please take care of them,' and then I waited to die. I saw the water coming closer, and we hit.

"It was a solid impact, and immediately the plane began to flood. It went from accepting death to, ‘OK, we've crashed. Now we've got to live,'" Brad continues. After recovering from his initial shock, he says he sprang into action. "The water's coming up to your knees, up to your thighs. It was cold, but you couldn't feel it, because you just wanted to get out. As I looked to my left, I saw a woman holding a baby. I saw some people blocking her off. She started climbing over the seats. I took a deep breath, and just bear-hugged the two of them and picked them up, and I said, ‘You're coming with me.'"

"When Brad talks about the crash, he keeps telling me that he can't explain it. He's still in shock," says his wife, Stephanie. The couple have a 2 and 1/2-year-old daughter.

"I died and came back. That's the way it felt," Brad says.

"After the crash that night, Brad got on another plane to come home. He said, ‘I'm just in shock right now. It's probably the best time to do it.'"

Brad says he struggles to cope with the traumatic experience. "You start to worry that things are never going to be right in your head again," he says. "I've had a flashback. One minute I'm happy, then the next minute I'm quick to snap. It's a rollercoaster of emotions."

"It's affecting him differently every day. I am concerned about long-term effects," Stephanie says.

"I can't tell you how glad we are to see you," Dr. Phil tells Brad. "Tell me how you feel about all of this."

"I don't know how I feel," Brad says, dabbing at his eyes.

"Are you surprised that this has impacted you as much as it has?" Dr. Phil asks.

Brad describes an incident that occurred shortly after he returned home. "I went into the bathroom, and the bathroom got really small, really quick. Suddenly, I thought I was having a heart attack. I was covered in sweat, like somebody dunked me in a pool and pulled me out really quick," he recalls. Yet, he says he's thankful to be alive. "It was what it was. I've got 10 fingers, 10 toes, I'm happy, wife, daughter."

"When did it hit you, the gravity of what he had survived?" Dr. Phil asks Stephanie.

"I was in shock for days after what happened. I'm just being here for him, and we're going to get through it," she replies.

Joining the show via satellite is Joshua, who was sitting in the emergency exit row of Flight 1549. As the plane was going down, he says he had to read the instruction manual on how to exit the emergency door.

After praising Joshua's courage, Dr. Phil says, "How are you doing now?"

"I think Brad encapsulated it perfectly. It's a rollercoaster of emotions. My wife, God bless her, she's been by my side every single second," he replies. "Since the crash, it makes you a true believer in the human spirit, but I'd trade places with anyone who wasn't on that plane."

Denise, another passenger, joins the show via satellite from North Carolina.

"What do you say to yourself about this, Denise, and how are you doing today?" Dr. Phil asks.

"I'm getting better every day. I think one of the emotions that I've had, over and over in my mind after leaving the plane and looking back at the aircraft, knowing that the chances of survival were just beyond belief, was, 'Why did I survive, when so many people have suffered such tragedy in their lives?' There are always casualties, as a rule, on a crash such as this."

"You two are on satellite for a reason. You didn't really want to get on an airplane and come to Los Angeles to do this show, which I totally get and understand," Dr. Phil says. He addresses Joshua. "You're scheduled to fly soon, correct?"

"I am. By the way, that had nothing to do with meeting you in person," Joshua jokes.

"Have you had moments in looking back where you went, ‘The odds were so against me, I shouldn't be here now'?" Dr. Phil asks Joshua.

"You become very task-oriented. You do what you need to do. You get the door out of the opening. You help people onto the wing. They're helping you at the same time," he replies. "I can't say enough about the fellow passengers and all the support they offered during the crash, and everybody banding together, remaining calm and doing everything they could for each other. It was phenomenal."


"I want all of you to know this is not something that's within our perception," Dr. Phil tells his guests. "Your psyche, your mind, will try to find a place to put this experience, but you don't have a category for surviving plane crashes. Your mind will wrestle with it. It's possible that you will have anxiety attacks, some type of panic attack can come and go, will probably pass. You can feel some type of depression, because it's like the silence is deafening. The adrenaline will stop pumping at some point, and it'll seem like, ‘What now?'"

Dr. Phil says the passengers of Flight 1549 may also experience survivor's guilt. "You think, more important people than I could have survived this, so you ask the question why? The question I ask is, ‘Why not? I'm one of those people who think there's a purpose in everything that happens," he says. He praises the bravery of the flight crew and rescue personnel. "This wasn't luck. Those flight attendants had to do a great job. That co-pilot had to do a great job. The pilot had to do a great job. The people who built that airbus had to do a great job. All of those ferry drivers and boat drivers, everybody had to do a great job, and everybody did. Nobody died.

"You do need to expect that there will be some upheaval with you mentally, emotionally, physically, your sleep patterns may be disrupted, and all of this is to be expected," he continues. "If it persists, you may be experiencing some post-traumatic stress disorder, and you will need to get some help for that. Don't think you're being weak. Don't think that you're doing something wrong. Sometimes our physiology and psychology interact in a way that can get out of control. It is treatable."