Daniel Vinton, right, says he would have flown to the ends of the earth to thank his pilot, Captian Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, who landed Flight 1549 on the Hudson River.
Summer 2009--Daniel Vinton, ’88, is an audit manager who recovers lost money for Fortune 500 companies. However, it’s a tattered copy of a law enforcement drama that has taken a prominent place in the Vinton family library.
That’s because both the Fredonia grad and a paperback copy of Michael Connelly’s, “The Closers,” survived January’s crash landing of U.S. Airways Flight 1549 in New York City’s Hudson River.
“The Closers” was among the belongings stowed in Mr. Vinton’s suitcase that was recovered from Flight 1549 and eventually returned to him. Some of his clothes were fine aside from a little water, which unfortunately had a more devastating impact on his laptop. The book was severely damaged, but still readable, so he insisted on finishing that copy. Vinton then contacted the author to ask if he would consider signing his Hudson-soaked paperback, and Mr. Connelly agreed.
“That will be my token of the trip,” Vinton said, “something to be saved and passed down.”
Vinton, who holds a bachelor’s degree in Finance and lives in Charlotte, N.C., with his wife, Laura, and sons, Kyle and Andrew, works for Hungerford Vinton, LLC, based in Rochester, N.Y. He was one of 155 passengers and crew members whose lives were forever changed by Flight 1549. So gripping was the story of how Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger successfully landed his disabled jetliner that Gov. David Patterson declared it the “Miracle on the Hudson.”
It was just the sort of good news story that the city — still coming to terms with the terrorist attacks of 2001 — and America — reeling from the nationwide recession — could and did embrace.
The incident, Vinton explained, brought out the very best in human nature.
“I saw the human spirit at its finest. Everybody was extremely helpful. I saw people pull the shirts off their backs so we could get warm,” Vinton said. “It was wonderful.”
An odd set of circumstances put Vinton on that ill-fated flight. Though air travel is part of his routine, he seldom flies to New York City. He wasn’t supposed to be on Flight 1549, but was able to wrap up business early and felt lucky to get an earlier flight home. The departure gate was also changed, which put it into the path of a large flock of birds. The resulting bird strike knocked out the jetliner’s engines just after take-off.
“One minute into our flight, I heard a loud boom off to the left side of the plane. It shook the plane violently,” he explained. “When it occurred, some people said the engine was on fire, so we knew we had problems.”
What he wanted to hear from the pilot, that the plane was experiencing major turbulence, was instead a warning. “When he finally spoke via the (public address system), Captain Sully said to brace for impact. That was not what I was expecting to hear. I was expecting the plane would land at another airport.”
Vinton didn’t know both engines had been silenced and that the plane was over water, not a bustling metropolis. “I didn’t think we were going to make it… It was kind of like, hope for the best and prepare for the worst.” During such hellish moments, Vinton affirmed that one’s life does indeed pass before his or her eyes.
For Vinton, thoughts immediately turned to family. He envisioned the tremendous pain that his family would have to endure as well as smaller, practical details. Did his wife, whom he married 17 years ago, know where his life insurance policy and collection of financial papers were kept? Foremost in his mind was having his family’s needs met.
Also of concern to Vinton were people on the ground. Just have the loss of life limited to those on the plane, he thought, especially for a city that lost thousands of lives when terrorists attacked the Twin Towers.
But there was no loss of life, thanks to Captain Sullenberger and his crew. Vinton, whose seat 15E was near the middle of the plane, bumped his head on the seat tray ahead of him. He said there was only one goal at that point: getting out of the plane and surviving.
“We started to see boats coming. If there’s a view to remember, the best view of your life, that would come to mind for me,” he said. “We watched people coming to our aid, doing whatever they could to help out. There was no frantic rush to exit the plane, either.”
In fact, one passenger saw that Vinton didn’t have his seat cushion flotation device, so he promptly tossed one his way. Vinton actually fell into the river, but was pulled onto a raft. He walked away with only a mild case of hypothermia and a bump on the head.
Once back on dry land, Vinton called his wife, telling her of the plane crash but that he was fine. She knew her husband had taken an earlier flight, but didn’t know any planes had gone down. Calls to other family members followed.
“I’ve always had a good outlook on life, but now more so than ever.” He noted how essential it was to take an account of what’s important in life, such as family and health. “Something like this could happen all of a sudden. It makes me appreciate life; it may be short, and other things happen.”
The passengers and crew gained national attention in the weeks that followed, including a reunion staged in Charlotte for “60 Minutes” and appearances on “Good Morning America” and “The CBS Evening News,” where he met anchors Robin Roberts and Katie Couric.
“I would have flown to the ends of the earth to thank and congratulate him (Sullenberger) and all the first responders who saved us,” Vinton remembered.
Today, Vinton and over 100 passengers are co-authoring a book due out in November. He said they’re happy to share their story as a source of inspiration. And since nearly 100 “Miracle” passengers live in the Charlotte area, this is one act of God they will never forget.