Jan 14

In the aftermath of a Haiti disaster, Miracle on the Hudson survivors will still commemorate the one-year anniversary of the day that 155 people took a swim in the Hudson River along with a commercial airbus, two life rafts, and a whole lot of plastic inflatable life vests “stowed underneath your seat in case of a water landing.”

That’s what was happening on January 15, 2009. What’s happening in the days surrounding January 15, 2010 is very different. The attention of the world is focused on Haiti, and the human drama that is playing out there. But that shouldn’t dim the celebration that is still legitimately joyful, and filled with book signings, reunions, celebrations, speaking engagements, and lots and lots of media attention for 155 Hudson crash survivors.

We need to remember things like the Miracle on the Hudson during tragedies like the Haiti earthquake because we can only make it through the disasters by keeping focused on the hope of a better future. Hope is what the Miracle on the Hudson made us all feel, and that’s what we can legitimately allow ourselves to feel again one year later.

This one-year anniversary is an important and meaningful time for everyone who played an integral part in creating a real-life miracle. In a different way, it is equally important and meaningful to everyone else who watched with awe as the drama unfolded before the eyes of the world, as if it was the ultimate reality show. In great contrast to the Haiti earthquake disaster, the Miracle on the Hudson was a disaster avoided. And it’s important to remember what that feels like.

Those who felt renewed in their faith can remember and feel that faith again. Those who were filled with appreciation for how precious life is can remember and feel that appreciation again. Those who were reassured that there are still heroes – like Captain Sully Sullenberger, Jeff Skiles, New York Waterway boat crews, first responders, firefighters, police officers, EMT’s and Red Cross volunteers – can remember and feel reassured again. Those who were filled with awe about breath-taking moments that shouldn’t happen – but somehow do – can remember and be filled with awe again.

Those who want to feel uplifted will be lifting a glass during the official toast at the crash site. Those who have an insatiable fascination for near death experiences and second chance lives will be standing in lines to meet the survivors who wrote their own stories for the Miracle on the Hudson anniversary book, “Brace For Impact.” Those who want to feel inspired again started the week watching the “Brace For Impact” documentary on TLC, and will be listening intently to the interviews and speeches that are happening all week. Those who have lost interest will probably ignore everything and miss a rare opportunity to participate once again in something extraordinary.

Some anniversaries – like September 11, and now the Haiti earthquake – are thrust involuntarily upon us. But most anniversaries are commemorated by choice because of the positive feelings they help us recall. The Miracle on the Hudson will be an anniversary celebration of choice for millions of people for many years to come. It represents the best of the human spirit, the highest form of fate, and the fairy tale ending that we want to believe can happen for us all. It reminds us that even the devastating collapse of physical structures in Haiti cannot collapse the structure of the human spirit.

Happy anniversary to a miracle! And many happy returns.

More on the Miracle on the Hudson Anniversary:

Miracle on the Hudson Anniversary Book
Brace for Impact Second Chances Writing Contest

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Jan 11

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.

More About the Miracle on the Hudson Survivors:

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Aug 13

Seven men were arraigned this month for the murder of a Pensacola, FL couple in their home. The slain couple, Byrd and Melanie Billings, were well-known in the community because in addition to their own four biological children, they had also adopted 13 special needs children. Nine of those children were sleeping in the house when their adoptive parents were murdered.

It’s difficult to imagine the traumatic effect this crime will have on those children, who are now orphaned once again. Author Chelsey Shannon can imagine it, unfortunately, at least a little bit. After losing her mother to cancer at the age of six, Chelsey came home from a normal school day when she was 13 years old to find out that her father had been murdered during a robbery attempt. Chelsey became an orphan and a teen in crisis just days before her 14th birthday.

“I thought I had known distraction before, but nothing compared to my total inability to consider anything else but my father and his death,” Shannon writes in her book, titled “Chelsey,” which recounts the murder of her father and her effort to rebuild her life as a teenager without parents.

“In the beginning, I’d thought the grief would kill me – that it would be just too much to bear,” Chelsey says in her book. “I was alone. My family told me again and again I was not, but without him, I was. I was no longer anyone’s child.”

Grief is a difficult emotional process for anyone. But psychologists have found that often when death is sudden or violent, those left behind often experience a different kind of grief called “traumatic bereavement,” which is more complex because of the additional fear and horror associated with the tragic nature of the incident that caused the death.

Although there are many national support groups available for parents who have lost children to crime, there is not as much support easily accessible to children who have lost parents to crime. And when crime leaves a child without any parents at all, like it did with the Billings children in Florida, there are additional feelings of abandonment and betrayal, and very few resources to help these children cope with the extreme complexity of their loss.

Shannon hopes that her book will be one of those resources. Because it contains some very personal writings that Shannon did as part of her own grief process, the book provides unique insights for children of crime victims and orphans. The teen author will also provided additional insights about her book, her struggles, and her emergence from grief during a live web conference event, which was broadcast on more than 30 websites, and has been viewed more than 1,000 times. The teen fielded more than 300 qestions and comments from viewers during that event.

There has been no official statements made yet about the fate of the nine Billings children, or if there is a will with provisions in it about the care of the children in the event that both parents would be murdered in their home by seven men dressed as ninjas. It’s just not the type of situation that most people plan for.

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