03/22/13 — Local Red Cross kicks off annual Heroes Campaign

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Local Red Cross kicks off annual Heroes Campaign

By Becky Barclay
Published in News on March 22, 2013 1:46 PM

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Dave Sanderson

Like most people, Dave Sanderson never dreamed he'd ever need the Red Cross -- until the day he almost died in a plane crash.

The last person off of USAirways flight 1549, now known as the Miracle on the Hudson, Sanderson was helped by the Red Cross three times within a 14-hour period. And that's why he travels around the country raising money to help the organization that helped him.

Sanderson was the guest speaker at the kickoff for the Red Cross Heroes Campaign Thursday at First Pentecostal Holiness Church.

Individuals, civic groups and businesses pledge to raise at least $1,000 during the month-long campaign. Funds are used to help the Red Cross help people in Wayne County.

Sanderson said he was humbled to be among the many supports of the American Red Cross, as he told the story of his Miracle on the Hudson.

He believes God places people where he needs them and had put him on that flight for a reason, as he was originally scheduled for a later flight that day.

"When I got on that flight, I did exactly what I do every time I get on a plane," Sanderson said. "I went to my seat, 15A, pulled out a magazine and started reading it. I did not listen to the flight crew's briefing. I did not know where the exits were. I didn't read the safety brochure. But I do now because I know how important it is."

But 60 seconds after takeoff, Sanderson heard a loud explosion. He looked out and saw fire beneath the left wing. Being a frequent flier, he thought the plane had just lost an engine, not realizing it was a bird strike in both engines.

"Then as soon as the plane crossed over the George Washington Bridge, the captain said, 'Brace for impact,' the only three words he ever said. "Immediately I prayed to just get down in one piece."

Sanderson said it was a hard hit and that the plane was estimated to be going between 120 and 150 miles an hour when it went into the Hudson River.

"When it landed, the entire bottom of the plane came off and water started coming in," he said. "It was ankle deep, then knee deep, then waist deep. Seats broke and people jumped up on top of the seats and walked onto them to get out of the doors."

Sanderson went into the aisle and started off the plane when he remembered something his mom always told him as a child, "If you do the right thing, God will take care of you."

"To me, the right thing was to take care of other people first," Sanderson said. "So I made sure everybody else got off the plane first."

Once everybody was off, Sanderson made his way to the wing, too, only to find that there was no room for him. He saw the plane's lifeboat in the water with people already in it and held the rope, not knowing it was tethered to the plane.

Sanderson stood waist deep in the icy waters of the Hudson River for a full seven minutes before finally being able to get out on the wing. Then he jumped into the river and swam to the closest boat he saw.

"On the shore three people were waiting for me, two EMTs and a guy with the Red Cross with a warm blanket," he said. "They carried me to a triage room, put me on the floor and took off my wet clothes. A guy tagged my foot and I thought I was dead. Like that ghost movie, I could see everything, but I couldn't talk. Then an EMT took my blood pressure, which was190/120, and said I could die of a stroke or heart attack at any minute."

Sanderson was rushed to the hospital, where it took doctors five hours to get his body temperature up to normal. He ended up staying overnight.

"I told them I needed clothes," he said. "The media knew where I was and I had nothing to wear.

"In the middle of the night, somebody with the northern New Jersey Red Cross went out and got me some really ugly sweats to wear. But somebody thought enough about me in the middle of the night to get me something to wear."

Sanderson took another flight out of New York the next day to go home to his wife and four children in Charlotte.

When he arrived home, he found that the CEO with the Red Cross of Charlotte had been taking care of his family during the emergency.

"There's where my miracle turned into my mission," Sanderson said.

That Sunday at his church, Sanderson spoke to the men's group, which had been opened up to the public.

"When I was done talking, a lady in the back of the room makes her way up to me," he said. "She grabs my left arm really hard. She looks me right in the eye and says, 'I was questioning if there was a God, and I don't believe in miracles. But you are physical evidence that there is a God, and he performs miracles. Thank you.'

"It came to me that moment that what happened to me Jan. 15, 2009, had now impacted somebody who now believed in a greater being who performs miracles because I am physical evidence."

Because of the Miracle on the Hudson and the help he got from the Red Cross, among others, Sanderson now does book signings with the book he wrote about the crash to raise money for the organization.

"I never thought I would need the Red Cross," he said. "But all of a sudden in a 14-hour period I had three Red Cross experiences. The Red Cross does this every day -- takes people from suffering and gives them hope. That's why this event today is so important to everybody. You never know that moment when you or one of your family members may need the Red Cross."