January 11, 2010 – Even at the one-year anniversary, it’s difficult for many Miracle on the Hudson passengers to understand why strange coincidences led them to be seated on a plane that plunged into the middle of the Hudson River. But it seems very clear to Dr. Ray Basri why a series of coincidences led him to be the only attending physician in a ferry terminal full of plane crash survivors that day one year ago.
“It was give back,” Dr. Basri says without hesitation. After being an early responder to the 9/11 attacks, and a first-week volunteer for Hurricane Katrina, Basri figures that his participation with the Miracle on the Hudson survivors was a gift from the universe. “Divine presence was saying, ‘Here you are, have a good experience. Here’s a good one for you.’”
When a commercial aircraft lands in the middle of a river, there’s nobody you’d like to have on hand more than Dr. Ray Basri, who is a medical examiner for the Federal Aviation Administration, a volunteer firefighter, a physician, and a member of the World Trade Center medical monitoring team. Basri would be at the top of any disaster assistance personnel list. Unfortunately, though, Basri’s Middletown medical office is more than 60 miles from the West 38th Street ferry terminal where most of the crash survivors were being taken.
By coincidence, however, on January 15, 2009 Basri had driven to Manhattan to pick up some equipment he needed for fire department medical screenings. It’s not an errand that he would normally have time to do himself, but he needed the equipment the next week and there was nobody else to send. “It was unusual,” Basri said about his Manhattan errand, and then added, “It was really freaky.”
After he picked up his medical equipment, Basri got in his car for his trip back to Middletown, and turned on the car radio. He heard news of the crash of US Airways flight 1549, which had just happened minutes before. Basri realized he was a half mile away from the West 38th St. ferry terminal, and without hesitation, he informed his local fire control of his location and headed towards the scene, following behind another emergency vehicle that was speeding that way as well.
The short drive was chaotic, and reminiscent of what Basri had encountered when he made the trip to the World Trade Center on 9/11. “I couldn’t help but think about the last time I was racing down this road, heading to the Twin Towers,” Ray wrote in “Brace For Impact,” a that is being released on the anniversary of the Miracle on the Hudson crash. “I oriented myself toward this new potential disaster… blunt trauma, deceleration injuries, near drowning, hypothermia… I was readying myself,” he wrote. In other words, Dr. Basri was braced for impact himself.
Prepared for the worst, Dr. Basri was shocked to find nothing but the best when he arrived at the ferry terminal. The calm, subdued, and rather upbeat vibe in the room was a stark contrast to what he had encountered at the scene of the World Trade Center. “At the Twin Towers I was in a state of shock at how graphically terrible the scene was,” Basri recalls. “There I just wanted to walk around in circles because it was so surreal.”
“It was totally different at the ferry station. The terminal is brand new – shiny glass and chrome. Everything was very well organized. Everyone except one flight attendant had already been triaged green,” Basri recalls. “I remember thinking that this was an amazing thing.”
Although there were plenty of EMT’s at the ferry terminal, Basri realized that he was the only physician. There were no apparent injuries to treat, but he still wanted to be a hands-on physician. Because of his disaster response experience with 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, he knew that non-physical injuries such as post-traumatic stress (PTSD) were a possibility, so he thought he could assist with some emotional healing instead. “I walked around the room to let everyone know that there was a physician available, and asked if they needed any help,” Basri said.
In making his rounds around the room, Basri made two connections that were part of his own miracle on the Hudson. The wife and mother-in-law of one of his practice patients, Diane Higgins and Lucille Palmer, had been flying to Charlotte on flight 1549. At age 85, Palmer, it turns out, was the oldest Hudson crash survivor. The best part of the hands-on doctoring that Basri did on January 15, 2009 was when he did a quick exam of Lucille, took off her wet shoes and socks, and rubbed her feet to warm them up.
Dr. Basri said it was energizing to be involved in a potential disaster that had such a positive outcome. Though his contributions at the scenes of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina were immensely rewarding, they had taken an emotional toll on him. “It was a miracle that I was in the right place at the right time [for the plane crash]. But I don’t think I could have taken another 9/11,” Basri wrote in “Brace For Impact.”
His experience with these extraordinary disasters has given Basri an “expanded sense of contribution.”
“My work with 9-11 opened my eyes. Working on Katrina is where everything got solidified,” Basri says. “I realized that my skill set is unique and I have been spoon fed things along the way to prepare me. That makes me the likely guy to be asked, and therefore I should be the guy who says ‘yes.’”
In contrast to his dramatic involvement with dramatic world events, Dr. Basri’s participation with the Miracle on the Hudson survivors may seem almost mundane and inconsequential. It may seem that way to everyone except for Basri. At the one-year anniversary of the Miracle on the Hudson, Basri is clear that it was equally important for him to have been involved in a potential disaster that had a definitively positive outcome.
“Finding a miracle when I expected a tragedy… celebrating life and not facing death… being in the right place at the right time…” These were the miracles on the Hudson for Ray Basri.
When TLC aired a documentary called “Brace for Impact” on January 10, 2010, Dr. Basri was watching. When Flight 1549 survivors gather at the New York ferry terminal to celebrate the anniversary of the Miracle on the Hudson on January 15, 2010, Dr. Basri will be part of the celebration. Basri will also be participating in two book signings for the “Brace for Impact” book staged by the Red Cross this week. Even though he wasn’t a passenger in a life raft or standing on a wing, participating in these Miracle on the Hudson anniversary events is important to him.
“With each anniversary of 9/11 a lot of painful emotions are reinforced,” Basri says. The anniversary of Flight 1549, by contrast, “gives us all a lot to savor as we relive it,” he says.
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