OMG!: Text messaging an important part of response

January 17, 2009 5:44:31 PM PST
Soon after US Airways Flight 1549 took off from LaGuardia Airport, Vallie Collins heard a boom and started smelling smoke. When the captain urged passengers to brace for impact, she immediately reached for her phone. "I thought, 'OK, I'm not going to see my husband and three children again. And I just want them to know at this point, they were the No. 1 thought in my mind,"' she said.

She sent them a text message: "My plane is crashing." There was no time for the final three words she wanted to include: "I love you."

The crash-landing was one of few aviation accidents in which passengers were able to send frantic dispatches to loved ones before their plane went down.

After the plane came to rest in the water, Collins and all 154 others aboard were quickly rescued by ferries and emergency crews. Larry Snodgrass, of Lake Wylie, S.C., grabbed his cell phone as the plane descended, sending a text message to his wife telling her an engine was on fire and that he loved her with all his heart.

He said his eyes were shut as the plane hit the water, and he opened them in disbelief when he realized he was still alive.

Meanwhile around the city, witnesses were recounting what they heard and saw via text message, on the SMS-blogging service Twitter, and on online photo-sharing Web sites. Janis Krums wrote that there was a plane in the Hudson, and he was on the ferry going to pick up people.

Krums quickly uploaded images of passengers standing on the wings of the plane bobbing in the frigid waters, waiting to be rescued. The images were picked up by The Associated Press and distributed to media outlets around the world. Hundreds of users on the photo-sharing site Flickr posted photos within moments of the splash landing.

A fan club on Facebook quickly formed for the pilot, Chesley B. Sullenberger.

After the passengers were rescued from the sinking plane, they began calling relatives. Passenger Michele Davis, 23, of Olympia, Wash., lost her phone in the crash, so she borrowed one to call her mother, Susan Dunham.

Dunham told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that when she answered her phone she heard, "Mama, mama, mamma. My plane's crashed. I'm on the lifeboat. I'm OK."

Denise Lockie had just slid down the plane's emergency landing chute when she called her older sister, Nancy Kallile of Toledo, Ohio.

"Basically she said, 'We've crashed in the Hudson River. I love you. I'm still alive,"' Kallile said, who was getting fitted for eyeglasses when her sister called.

Snodgrass was one of the last people off the plane. He told The Herald of Rock Hill that he called his wife as he stood in shin-deep water on the wing, waiting to be rescued. She was distraught, watching television and fearing the worst after getting that text message, but all was well.


Associated Press Writer Samantha Gross in New York and Matt Reed in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to this report.