'Miracle' plane's journey captures Washington County residents' attention

June 08, 2011|By DON AINES and CALEB CALHOUN | and
  • A US Airways jet fuselage is carried on Interstate 70 over Sharpsburg Pike Tuesday. The jet became famous when pilot Chesley Sullenberger safely landed the passenger-full plane in New York's Hudson River in 2009.
By Kevin G. Gilbert, Staff Photographer

About 40 people pressed their faces and cameras against the chain link fence on the Appalachian Trail footbridge over Interstate 70 late Tuesday morning to see a piece of aviation history pass beneath their feet.

Traveling considerably slower than its old cruising speed of about 500 mph, the Airbus A320 that was US Airways Flight 1549 chugged up the mountain sans wings and tail, a 120-foot aluminum cylinder that two years ago captured the attention of the world when it made an emergency landing in theHudson River.

At the controls on Jan. 15, 2009, was Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who brought the jetliner down safely in what became known as “The Miracle on the Hudson” after the plane lost power shortly after takeoff from LaGuardia Airport. It had encountered a flock of birds that fouled the engines, but Sullenberger ditched the plane without loss of life to the 155 passengers and crew on  board.

“How’s that thing fly? It doesn’t have any wings,” joked Keith Lefler of Boonsboro. He had been aware the plane was heading through Maryland on its way to an aviation museum inCharlotte, N.C., but was not planning on coming out to watch it pass by.

Lefler ands his daughter, Ginny, were hiking when they “saw all the commotion” at the parking lot leading to the footbridge and decided to join the crowd.

“The Miracle on the Hudson was a piece of good news,” said Karin Johnson of Greencastle, Pa. She and husband Don Hilton saw the refurbished torch of the Statue of Liberty being driven through Upstate New York in the 1980s and decided to see another piece of history roll by.

Having watched through the viewfinder of a camera as the fuselage passed beneath him, Hilton says he hopes the images turn out well.

Justin and Freda Thomas of Frederick were there with children Ethan, 10, Haven, 8, and 6-year-old Elijah. They had been following the progress of the plane via Twitter updates to get to the vantage point comfortably ahead of the plane, Justin said.

“For me it was such an amazing story that I wanted to see the plane go by. My kids think I’m crazy,” said Tammy Watson of Myersville. “I’m really curious about how they’re going to get the plane down the highway.”

Like O.J. Simpson’s low-speed chase in 1994, people gathered at overpasses and other sites along the way to catch a glimpse of the Airbus as it rolled westward.

“It’s not everyday you see a plane driving down the highway,” one woman remarked.

"This is something that we probably won't ever see again in ourlifetime," said Dave Dehaven of Hagerstown, who parked in the emergency lane at the Greencastle Pike Exit (Exit 24) to watch Flight 1549 as it was driven down I-70. Lucky for him, the plane stopped at Greencastle Pike. Traffic was slow behind it because it took up two lanes.

"I have been following it since it left (New Jersey) and I really wanted to come and see it," Dehaven said. "I just wish more people would have come out and see history in the making."

The people driving the plane have been stopping periodically since it left from Harrisburg, N.J., on Saturday. Shawn Dorsch, president of the Carolinas Aviation Museum, says they planned to stop at the first scales in West Virginia right off I-68 Tuesday night.

Dorsch said he was amazed at the number of people who have showed up along the route.

"This is an internationally recognized aviation icon," he said. "I think the whole story of really represents the heights of human technological achievement and heroism."

Dorsch added that the story was great because almost everyone has flown commercial. After stopping on Tuesday, Dorsch said they plan to get to the museum Friday morning.

People can track where the plane is on a GPS at According to Dorsch, the GPS briefly went down on Monday, and more than 540 people called in wondering what happened.

- Maegan Clearwood contributed to this story.

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