Hilton man who was a passenger on the Miracle on the Hudson flight shares his story

HILTON, N.Y. — Aviation experts still marvel at the Miracle on the Hudson. In 2009, Captain Sully Sullenberger successfully landed a commercial airplane in the Hudson River. All 150 passengers and five crew members survived. Dan Vinton, a 1983 graduate of Hilton High School, was on that plane and shared his story with News10NBC while he was home for his 40th high school reunion.

Vinton traveled a lot for work. “Our clients were from all over the country so, the plane was my office,” he recalls. On Jan. 15, 2009, he was scheduled on a 5 p.m. fight from LaGuardia Airport in New York City to Charlotte, N.C. “I got done with the job early and I said, I know there’s a 2:45 flight, I might as well take a chance to get on it,” he says.

There was room, a middle seat in Row 15 of U.S. Airways Flight 1549. The plane took off at 3:42 p.m. and, three minutes later, “all the sudden I heard an explosion, it felt like a bomb went off, it was the most violent, terrifying thing I’ve even felt in my life,” Vinton recalls. “We’re just freaking out inside and somebody is yelling engine is on fire, we can smell the smoke, I mean we knew we were in a lot of trouble … we were relatively quiet although you could kinda hear some sobbing, some people saying, ‘hey, what’s going on’”’ and I was just kinda in shock and waiting for some sort of announcement.”

What the passengers didn’t know at the time was that the plane had hit a flock of birds which had taken out both engines. Within 30 seconds, Captain Sullenberger came on with a message to his passengers. “He said, ‘this is your Captain, brace for impact,’” Vinton says, “I didn’t know we were even going to hit water, brace for impact? I’m in New York, what do you think you’re going to brace into,” he remembers wondering.

Vinton, a husband and father of two boys, thought he was going to die. “Some people were trying to text their loved ones to let them know that they loved them and that they were probably going to die; other people were praying,” he says, “there were just a lot of things going through my head as far as how I’m going to miss my family and my loved ones and it was a really sad moment.”

But then, the plane landed in the Hudson River and after it finally came to rest, “I felt instantly grateful because I survived a plane crash — which again is surreal, right? Is this really happening to me? I think we all felt that and I literally did the pinch test, I looked at my body parts; everything was still there and then all the sudden, the cabin door opens up and Captain Sully yells ‘evacuate,’” Vinton recalls.

What transpired next was captured on camera — the images of the passengers standing on the wings of the plane while they waited for help. “As passengers, we did enough little things to help all of us survive that day,” Vinton says, “I tried to bring in the slide, the raft and it didn’t budge and I slipped and I fell into the river, I’m like … oh, I better swim back but I couldn’t get back on the wing because it was slippery and then two gentlemen picked me right off the water into the wing.”

Vinton says they all helped each other, passing seat cushions and life jackets to people who couldn’t swim, making sure there was enough room on the wings and in the raft for one another. “I saw the best in humanity that day, I really did, and I wish the whole word was on that plane with me to see how wonderful we can all be as human beings,” Vinton says.

Dan Vinton will be sharing his experience with the Hilton community on Thursday, July 20, at 7 p.m. at the Hilton High School Auditorium, 400 East Ave., Hilton. The event is free, but the Parma-Hilton Historical Society asks that you register in advance: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfw-SbXBjcZ_lSE0CRISrc1s-OQvtGxXigKqfYFvyhDVSbU1g/viewform?pli=1.