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'Miracle on the Hudson' survivors toast five years later

By Rande Iaboni, CNN
updated 6:41 PM EST, Wed January 15, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Survivors mark the five-year anniversary of the "Miracle on the Hudson" landing
  • Survivors reunited with rescuers for "toast to life"
  • Flight 1549 was forced to land in Hudson River after geese damaged engines

(CNN) -- Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger was reunited Wednesday with both survivors and rescuers at the scene of the remarkable emergency landing of U.S. Airways flight 1549 five years ago on the Hudson River.

To mark the anniversary, Sullenberger, First Officer Jeffrey Skiles and several passengers of the 150 who were on the plane were reunited with members of the ferry crews who rescued them on January 15, 2009.

"Much was saved that day," Sullenberger said at a news conference. "And it's the efforts not only of the crew, the rescuers, and the first responders, that everyone survived."

"Had even one person not survived," he added, "I personally couldn't have celebrated any of this."

Five years ago, the aircraft left LaGuardia Airport and ran into a flock of geese that damaged both engines, forcing the crew to land in the frigid waters of the Hudson.

Within four minutes of landing, multiple New York Waterway ferry boats, aided by the U.S. Coast Guard and police from New York and New Jersey, descended on the scene to rescue the 155 people on board.

The complicated maneuver, which was called an "amazing piece of airmanship" by a former National Transportation Safety Board director, resulted in only a few minor injuries and made heroes of the crew.

Passengers at the news conference thanked the rescue teams.

"Without these people, my children would not have had a father, my mom wouldn't have had a son," Barry Leonard said.

After the news conference, the group of survivors and rescuers boarded a boat on the Hudson River to celebrate.

"We're going to toast to life," Leonard said.

Sullenberger took time off to write a book and speak about aviation issues before returning to the cockpit in fall 2009. He also joined the airline's flight operations safety management team.

After his last flight from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to Charlotte, North Carolina, in March 2010, Sullenberger said he was "chosen by circumstance" to be a spokesman for the aviation industry and plans to work independently in that role.

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