- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 20, 2009

BALTIMORE | Lawyer Jim Hanks said after US Airways Flight 1549 splashed down in the Hudson River that he made a decision that could have been fatal.

Recalling the standard pre-flight safety instructions to “head for the nearest exit,” Mr. Hanks left his seat three rows from the rear of the Airbus 320. Waist-deep in frigid water, he headed for the rear door — only to learn it could not function as an escape route.

A flight attendant said of the door, ” ‘It’s hopeless,’ ” Mr. Hanks recalled Monday.

“I could see that the doorjamb and the door were twisted and bent in a way that was letting in water, and it was also clear that the door was not going to be able to be opened,” he said. “Nonetheless, I tried.

“In just the five or six or seven seconds between getting out of my seat and getting back there and trying the door, the water rose from my waist to my neck. It was at that point that I thought I was going to die.”

Mr. Hanks said he knew a planeload of people was between him and the other exits. He figured he would never again see his wife and 4-year-old daughter.

“It was very sad, but I also wasn’t going to give up,” he said. “I was still alive. I was still able to move around.”

As soon as Mr. Hanks started up the aisle, he realized the plane was at an angle — its nose was tilted up, and the water became shallow as he walked forward. “I could see that these 150 people were being evacuated very quickly through the four other exits, so I just kept moving forward.”

Mr. Hanks said he is grateful to pilot Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger and the flight crew for their actions in the emergency landing Thursday.

“I have heard some people say, ‘Well, he just did what he was trained to do.’ It was way beyond what anybody would ever be trained to do,” Mr. Hanks said.

Reflecting four days later on his near-death experience, Mr. Hanks said his life isn’t at all different.

“I’m still doing what I’m doing,” he said. “I’m a husband, father, lawyer; and I have friends; and I have clients; and I have work to do. It’s going to be a short period of focus on this event, and life is going to move on.”

As for flying, Mr. Hanks said he has no qualms about air travel. The day after the Flight 1549 crash, he was on another flight home to Baltimore from New York, and he still planned to fly to Austria to be reunited there with his wife and little girl.

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