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On Hudson, Flight 1549 survivors, rescuers toast life

First Officer Jeffrey Skiles, left, and Capt. Chesley

First Officer Jeffrey Skiles, left, and Capt. Chesley Sullenberger pose for a group photo with the passengers of US Airways Flight 1549 during a reunion to mark the one-year anniversary of the plane's miraculous splash-landing in the Hudson River. (Jan. 15, 2010) Credit: Getty Images

At 3:31 p.m. Friday, the voices rang across the waters of the Hudson River: "Brace for impact!"

Then, as one, the group aboard the ferryboat - survivors of US Airways Flight 1549 and their rescuers - sent up a cheer and raised their glasses in a "toast to life" at the spot in the river where their jet, crippled by a bird strike, came to rest after an emergency landing a year ago.

The afternoon was warmer, and the people a whole lot drier.

"It was cold, but not as cold as last year," Bill Zuhoski, 24, of Mattituck, one of a few Long Islanders on that flight, said in describing the passengers' countdown to 3:31 and shouts after he and others returned to the NY Waterway ferry terminal.

Those moments on the ferry - which included Flight 1549's pilot, Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, and First Officer Jeffrey Skiles - were the culmination of the "Miracle on the Hudson" anniversary recognition.

Friday's mild temperatures were a stark contrast to a year ago, when - with the mercury in the 20s - passengers evacuated the Airbus A320 by climbing onto the jet's wings and into life rafts. All 155 passengers and crew survived.

The trip from the NY Waterway terminal at West 39th Street took about 30 minutes. Separate ferries carried family members and media, and five helicopters buzzed overhead.

"It was really festive," said Eric Stevenson, a Flight 1549 passenger who lives in Paris. "Here we were thinking we weren't going to make it, and one year later we're celebrating life."

Before the ferryboat ride to midriver, passengers posed for a group photo with Sullenberger and his crew inside the NY Waterway terminal.

"As my old Italian mother used to say, 'It was meant to be,' " said NY Waterway founder and president Arthur E. Imperatore, whose ferries helped rescue passengers a year ago. "God was with you."

Patrick Harten, 35, of Long Beach, is the air traffic controller who was communicating with Sullenberger on the day the plane, which had just taken off from LaGuardia Airport and was bound for Charlotte, N.C., went into the river. He joined the passengers on the ferry.

"It was an amazing experience," Harten said after returning to the ferry terminal.

The year since the "Miracle on the Hudson" has come with challenges, Harten said.

"The job itself is the same, but in emergency situations or if it gets a little busy, I feel the stress more than I used to," he said.

Friday morning, passengers and crew attended a breakfast in midtown to honor the Red Cross of Greater New York, which provided blankets, clothing and food to them after the crash. The celebration was tempered by sadness over earthquake-devastated Haiti, where the Red Cross is providing relief efforts.

Gov. David A. Paterson, calling the saga of Flight 1549 the happiest day of his term, said at the event, "We're praying for another miracle in Haiti."

Mayor Michael Bloomberg also touched on the situation in Haiti, saying New Yorkers should be smiling about Flight 1549's successful ending but remember that "other people aren't quite as lucky."

Sullenberger told reporters: "The event reminds people that cultivating ordinary virtues can prepare you for extraordinary challenges."

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