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Long Island survivors of 'Miracle on Hudson' change course

Alex Magness in his Rockville Centre home with

Alex Magness in his Rockville Centre home with his wife Maribeth and daughter Abby. Alex was on board a US AIrways flight which crash landed into the Hudson River. Photo Credit: Thomas A. Ferrara

Since surviving the "Miracle on the Hudson" crash landing in January, Alex Magness says he's been a changed man. As a result of the "miracle," Magness said, he will be spending more quality time this Christmas at home with his wife, Maribeth, and their daughter, Abigail.

"I am maximizing the time with my wife and daughter," Magness, 39, a sales director for Hewlett-Packard who lives in Rockville Centre, said recently.

Abigail was just 18 monthsold on Jan. 15 when Magness boarded Flight 1549 from New York's LaGuardia Airport to Charlotte, N.C. Magness was traveling alone, bound for a business meeting. He was among the 155 passengers and crew aboard when a bird strike crippled the engines of the US Airways Airbus. It landed spectacularly in the Hudson River, and everyone was rescued.

The aftermath of the near-death experience was "like hitting the reset button," he recalled. "I took a couple of weeks off right after the plane crash, and I don't think I left their [his wife and daughter's] side for two weeks. You start to feel that you are on borrowed time very quickly, and you'd better make some changes and huddle up."

Since then, Magness said, "my wife has said that I'm more present in the moments we have together. I have reconnected with old friends." He also has resumed old hobbies such as playing in a band.

A year after splashing into the headlines, Long Islanders who survived the crash are counting their blessings, recounting their stories in books, and finding special meaning in the coming holiday season, with its emphasis on spending time with family and friends.

The coming anniversary has revived not only memories of that day, but also interest in the people involved, as several new books tell their stories. Magness is featured in "Miracle on the Hudson: The Survivors of Flight 1549 Tell their Extraordinary Stories of Courage, Faith and Determination" (Random House, $25.)

But mostly, they have tried to get on with their lives.

Robert Motta, a professor of psychology at Hofstra University in Hempstead and a pilot who flies out of Republic Airport in East Farmingdale, said the mere fact that everyone on Flight 1549 survived makes their experience unique.

"Flying in large commercial aircrafts is the safest mode of flying; however, when a large aircraft goes down, the chances of dying are well in excess of 90 percent," he said.

Typically, about 20 percent of crash survivors will develop post-traumatic stress disorder, said Motta, a Vietnam veteran who is an expert on the condition. Women are more likely to suffer PTSD than men, he added.

On the other hand, the trauma can have positive effects, with some survivors experiencing personal growth. "As a result of almost having lost their life, they begin to focus on more meaningful issues such as family and friend relationships," Motta said. "They can develop perspective on what's important in life."

Anastasia "Tess" Sosa, 41, of East Hampton, who was flying that day with her husband, Martin, 48, an architect, and their infant son, Damian, said, "I think after having a traumatic experience like that, you are happy to be with your family, and you cherish everything."

"Mentally your whole perspective is just flipped over. You live, think and breathe differently," said Sosa, whose story is also told in "Miracle on the Hudson." Although Sosa said she thinks about death every day, she added, "Inevitably you're a new person, you begin a new life."

Christmas Eve will be extra special for the family, because not only is it their first holiday after the crash landing, but it is their daughter Sofia's 5th birthday.

Sosa says, "I think it's going to be an intense holiday."

In contrast to those who say they will never be the same is Bill Zuhoski, who has turned 24 since the flight. A construction worker who lives in Mattituck, he says the incident hasn't precipitated "any huge drastic change in my life." Zuhoski was sometimes identified in news reports as "the naked passenger" because he stripped to his underwear to avoid drowning as his section of the plane filled with water. He said he was used to swimming in ice-cold water because with his brothers he used to leap once a month into Long Island Sound, even in January.

Zuhoski said of the "miracle": "I guess I've heard when some people go through a certain thing like that, they've been given a second chance at life. It hasn't happened for me."

He did, however, appear on the "Oprah" show last month, which required taking his first flight since last January. Zuhoski's story is a chapter in "Brace for Impact: Miracle on the Hudson Survivors Share Their Stories of Near Death and Hope for New Life" (HCI, $14.95). The book will be published on the first anniversary.

However, Zuhoski has noticed one change in his behavior. He says he eases up a bit on the horn in those East End traffic jams. Zuhoski says: "I take everything in stride a little bit now. Some of the little things that used to bother me, [like] getting stuck in traffic, I used to bang my fist. I don't get upset over the things I can't control."

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