As I approached the podium to make my final remarks at our 15th-anniversary celebration, recognizing our first responder, healthcare, military, and Red Cross heroes of the Miracle on the Hudson, I suddenly became very emotional. I had prepared remarks ready to go, but at the last moment, I made an “executive decision” and changed them when I looked out and saw the people who had saved so many lives that day.
What I saw when I approached the podium and looked into the audience’s eyes was their recognition of the contribution of those who were there that day and how small the difference was from having another completely catastrophic event in the New York City area and a miracle.
One of the items that was revealed during the event was how many of the first responders, healthcare, and Red Crossers in attendance were involved during and after the terrorist attacks on 9/11/01. I have spoken to many of them, and almost all of them told me that when they heard about a plane heading towards the George Washington Bridge, they relived what happened on that fateful day.
Dr. Hilda Roque, who spoke about the healthcare response, told me that when she heard, she told the people she was with to be ready for lots of blood and, if they can’t handle it, don’t go as they needed to be focused on saving those at the triage center, not managing their people.
After I heard all of the stories from all the group representatives that day, my remarks shifted to share about diverse and disparate groups coming together quickly and the power of unity in diversity, and how one degree can change your date with destiny.
If the Captain and First Officer don’t shift a gliding plane one degree, US Airways 1549 is crashing into the George Washington Bridge.
If the Captain and First Officer miss the landing just by one degree, US Airways 1549 is toppling west into Jersey City, toppling east into rush hour in Manhattan, or nosediving to the bottom of the Hudson River. Can you imagine if an Airbus 320 goes wing over wing through Manhattan during rush hour?
I spoke with a few of the NYPD about how they deployed their scuba divers quickly to get to the plane and check for those in the water and those who may have been under the plane. One thing they shared with me was as they were arriving by helicopter, they couldn’t believe how many people were on the wings and how the wings were holding up under that much weight. One NYPD “Aquaman” shared that a few more pounds of weight on the wings, the wings may have not been able to hold up, just a few pounds, a few degrees of weight.
Gio Ahmad revealed that the plan for a maritime rescue in the Hudson River was signed off just a couple of weeks prior to January 15, 2009, and they modified the plan in seconds from a boat rescue to a plane rescue. If that plan hadn’t been in place, can you imagine how all the disparate groups in New Jersey and New York would coordinate in a matter of moments? It would have been much more difficult, and we may not be here today.
In my personal situation, I found out after I was released from Palisades Medical Center in North Bergen that my body temperature was so low that if my temperature had been one or two degrees lower, the chance for me for a full recovery would have been dramatically affected.
So, as I approached the podium, these things were rushing through my head. I was trying to organize my thoughts quickly as I realized not only the power in unity but also how it takes only one degree of separation from catastrophe to a miracle, and miracles give hope, and hope is what this whole day was about.
When I got back to Charlotte the next day, I was debriefing the event, just as the first responders, healthcare, and Red Crossers did in the days after 1/15/09.
I spoke to many of the first responding units a few months after 1/15/09, and all of them told me there were many learnings from that day that could have been better, such as being able to identify all the passengers more quickly as many of the passengers left where they were dropped off. Still, overall, they executed the plan almost flawlessly.
In my personal debrief, there were a few things that we could have done more effectively for the event, but overall, the mission of the day was accomplished. We wanted to recognize and celebrate those units and people who gave the New York City region a story of hope in a matter of moments.
Think back throughout your life and think about your defining moments and how one degree of change would have affected the outcome. If you experienced an auto or transportation accident, if the impact would have been one degree to the left or right, the difference it would have made to you or your loved ones.
Or in your relationships, one degree or one comment can change it from having fear into love.
Or in a business situation, how one degree or one point can change from having a raving fan or not having a client.
That day, January 15, 2009, the power in one degree turned another national tragedy into a message of hope.
If you go back to 2009, there weren’t a lot of positive things going on in the country. The United States was in a recession and was coming out of a contentious election. But in six minutes, a crew, passengers, and first responders showed the world hope in unity. Five days later, the first African American President was inaugurated, showing the world that there is power in unity in diversity.
The Power of One Degree and With Diversity there is the Unity of Force. That is what I saw as I walked to the podium and how grateful I was to be a part of an experience that brings people together and a model for how to
Create opportunity out of uncertainty and create your own flight plan.