Ten years after “Miracle on the Hudson,” employees reflect on connections made and lives changed

On a frigid January afternoon 10 years ago, US Airways Flight 1549, heading for Charlotte from LaGuardia Airport in New York City, landed in the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey. All 155 passengers, including 20 Bank of America employees, escaped from the plane because of Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger’s artful touchdown and some boats’ swift rescues. Today, the incident is widely known as the “Miracle on the Hudson.”

Casey Jones from our Social Media Servicing team, who’s been with the bank for 22 years, was on the flight. After evacuating the plane, he stood on its icy left wing and fell in the river as he was about to climb aboard a ferry. He was the last passenger rescued from the wing.

A focus for Casey’s “second life”

Once back home in Jacksonville, Florida, Casey continued the job that had brought him to New York: software testing related to the bank’s acquisition of Merrill Lynch in 2009. That same year, he founded the Casey Jones Miracle on the Hudson Turkey Drive. The charity’s founding was an answer to questions Casey had about the meaning of his narrow escape: What was important to him now, and what should he be focusing on in his “second life”? While the public found inspiration in the passengers’ fortunate landing, Casey and his fellow passengers struggled to define what it meant for their own lives.

“The night of the crash, all the clothes I had on were borrowed,” he recalled. “My pants were five sizes too big and my shirt was one size too small. When I looked at myself in the mirror, I saw the image of a homeless person, and it made me feel compassion for the homeless and those less fortunate that I never would have had without going through this experience. I lost every judgment I had about them. I needed to give back.”

Casey got the idea for the turkey drive after giving a talk about the crash to a community group. He heard a radio report that the local Salvation Army had lost a major donor to its annual Thanksgiving turkey drive. The charity was seeking new donors to feed the homeless.

“I sent an email to five friends,” Casey said. “I told them we had only 24 hours to pick up the turkeys, package and deliver them.” The friends raised enough money for 140 turkeys, and so began the annual drive. His small crew continues to pack turkeys into car trailers and deliver them to the Salvation Army.

His donations increased markedly three years ago after he set up an account for online funding, which attracted media attention and nationwide support. This past Thanksgiving, volunteers donated 634 turkeys, bringing the total since 2009 to more than 3,000.

A life-changing experience for passenger and air traffic controller

Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) teammate Pam Seagle, a fellow passenger on Flight 1549, shared her experience and the connections made with other passengers and those associated with the flight at a recent small business conference. She was part of the bank’s transition team during the acquisition with Merrill Lynch and was a regular commuter on Charlotte/New York flights. On January 15, she had wrapped up her meetings in New York early and had been able to catch an earlier flight home.

“One thing we learned after the flight is that the airline could not release names of passengers due to privacy concerns, so we developed a manual opt-in process so that passengers could share their experiences with one another from this life-changing experience,” she noted. “We started a Facebook page to continue to stay connected and share how our lives continued to be impacted by the experience.”

Patrick Harten, the air traffic controller assigned to Flight 1549, was one of the Facebook group’s members. While he waited to hear the flight’s outcome, he had been devastated by the presumed loss. Last year, he posted to the Facebook group hoping that someone might have a connection to Bank of America to direct him on a small business loan for his brewery.  

Pam, who celebrates her 25th anniversary at the bank on January 15, leads the bank’s efforts to support and develop women entrepreneurs through partnerships, part of our ESG focus. She knew our We Can Deliver program could be a resource and also made the connection to colleagues in our Small Business group. Through Pam’s help, Harten ultimately received a loan through one of our lending partners, the New York Business Development Corporation. He has begun building out the brewery and tap room with a goal to open the Long Island Brewing Company in Long Island, New York, in February.

“It’s a great example of how important relationships are,” Pam reflected. “I’m fortunate to regularly see the connections made through our women’s partnerships, and it was affirming to see how we could help Patrick and his business.”

Remembering the event 10 years later

On Jan. 15, the 10th anniversary of the landing, Casey, Pam and fellow passenger and ESG colleague Brian Siegel are joining passengers, their families and the flight crew (including Captain Sully, Harten and first responders) in Charlotte for a reunion. Brian had been in New York for business meetings as part of his role in sponsorship marketing and obtained a standby ticket for Flight 1549 at the last minute.

The gathering is hosted by the Carolinas Aviation Museum, where the plane has been on display since 2011. Along with other donors, the bank provided support to bring the plane to the museum, which serves as a central point for cataloguing the flight’s history. We will be continuing that support by sponsoring the 10th anniversary celebration.

“The bank’s support of the museum helps tell the story of Flight 1549 and has been instrumental in ensuring that visitors to the museum can feel a sense of connection to this event,” said Brian, who now serves on the board of Carolinas Aviation Museum. The museum, which earlier this year celebrated its 25th anniversary, uses the story of Flight 1549 along with its other exhibitions to encourage young people to pursue STEM-related education and careers in aviation and serves as an economic catalyst for west Charlotte.

Casey Jones holds a sign showing how many turkeys his Miracle on the Hudson Turkey Drive donated.

Casey Jones holds a sign showing how many turkeys his Miracle on the Hudson Turkey Drive donated.

Pam Seagle, Bryan Doxford (New York Business Development Corporation), Patrick Harten (FAA air traffic controller and co-owner of Long Beach Brewing Company), Trevor Dryer (CEO, Mirador)

Pam Seagle, Bryan Doxford (New York Business Development Corporation), Patrick Harten (FAA air traffic controller and co-owner of Long Beach Brewing Company), Trevor Dryer (CEO, Mirador)

Casey Jones and his family with Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (center), the captain who landed the plane safely.

Casey Jones and his family with Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (center), the captain who landed the plane safely.


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