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Survivor says Miracle on the Hudson inspired him to ‘live like you’re dying’

NEW YORK — It's been more than 7 years since a plane that took off from LaGuardia Airport had to make an emergency landing in the Hudson River after a flock of geese disabled its engines.

Stories of the bravery of pilot Chesley B. Sullenberger III landing Flight 1549 on the water, as well as pictures of passengers being rescued from the sinking plane's wings, have stuck with New York residents and people worldwide since the incident in January 2009.

And now the movie "Sully," based on the so-called Miracle on the Hudson, is hitting theaters Sept. 9, starring Tom Hanks as the hero pilot.

Ahead of the release, one of the survivors of that fateful flight, Barry Leonard, told PIX11 about his experience that day and how it changed his life.

Leonard, who was traveling home to Charlotte, N.C., on the 2009 flight, said the plane suddenly "headed down like a roller coaster" just three minutes into the trip.

"The plane just shook," Leonard told PIX11 Morning News. "Then there was this smell."

Leonard said that since the near-death experience, he's revised his perspective to "believe in living like you're dying." Since the crash, Leonard has went on adventures and checked items off his bucket list, including riding elephants in Africa and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro with his son.

The chance to relive the experience through the new movie is cathartic, Leonard said. He was one of the passengers to recount their story in "Brace for Impact," a collection of survivor narratives.

Leonard has led the charge in staying in contact with others that experienced firsthand what happened on that flight. Each year, he holds a party in New York and invites the flight passengers and crew members, as well as the first responders that day.

"They're my second family," Leonard said. "We laugh, we cry together. We sit down and talk about what happened that day, because nobody else can understand what happened except for us."