Miracle on the Hudson survivor returns to the Hudson River for good cause

He swam 3.1 miles in the Hudson with a group of former Navy Seals, veterans and military supporters for a fundraiser.

Kristin Thorne Image
Tuesday, August 23, 2022
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Kristin Thorne has one survivor's story of facing his fears after the Miracle on the Hudson.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Every time Dave Sanderson sees the Hudson River, he feels a pull toward the water.

"It's intense," he said. "But, it's like gratefulness."

Sanderson, of North Carolina, was one of 155 passengers who survived the Miracle on the Hudson plane crash in January 2009.

On the day of the incident, Sanderson had to swim in the 36-degree water of the Hudson River to get to rescuers on the ferry.

"I tell people, it's the longest 15-yard swim of my life," he said.

Sanderson could have been one of the first passengers to seek safety on the plane's wing. He was seated in seat 15A - only four rows back from the wing. But he said as he started to get off the plane, he heard his mother's voice telling him to make sure everyone was off the plane first. His mother died in 1997.

"I heard her say, if you do the right thing God will take care of you," he recounted to Eyewitness News reporter Kristin Thorne.

Because of that, there was no room left for him on the wing or the inflatable boat.

Sanderson waited patiently for about seven minutes in waist-deep water, until he felt the entire plane shake. The ferry had bumped into the plane, but Sanderson didn't know that at the time. He thought the plane was sinking.

"I said, man this thing is going down, it's like Titanic, get out," he said.

Sanderson jumped into the water and swam to the ferry -- thankful for the swim lessons his parents had gotten him as a child.

After the accident, Sanderson continued to travel frequently to the New York City metro area, and last year a friend told him he should do a Navy SEAL fundraiser event swimming in the Hudson.

"Why don't you do it with me and get some redemption?" Sanderson recounted his friend saying to him.

Sanderson got into a pool with a Navy SEAL friend and quickly realized he was in no shape to swim in the rigorous currents of the Hudson.

So he started training -- hard. He trained two to three hours a day in the pool and a lake near his home in North Carolina.

Earlier this month, he swam 3.1 miles in the Hudson with a group of former Navy SEALs, veterans and military supporters for a fundraiser for the GI Go Fund -- an organization based in Newark that helps veterans.

The event on Aug. 6 entailed swimming from Liberty State Park, to the Statue of Liberty, to Ellis Island and then to Battery Park.

"God gave me a second chance," Sanderson said before getting in the water. "I'm not going to waste it. I'm going to put it back into the community. Raise money like we're doing today."

Sanderson has turned his message of what he calls "Post-Traumatic Growth Syndrome" into a new book called, From Turmoil to Triumph, and speaking engagements around the world. He also has a magazine called Moments Matter.

He said getting back into the Hudson is a metaphor for everybody.

"That when you have something that traumatic hits you," he said. "If you don't go back and face it, if you don't go back and do something about it, it may just hang in your head, it may just weigh you down."

ALSO READ | Yacht sinks after catching on fire in Hudson River

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