10 years later, Miracle on the Hudson passengers say they do the most with their ‘new’ lives

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ON THE HUDSON, Midtown -- Anybody who can look back over the last 10 years and conclude that each day of it was well spent is truly fortunate.

For 155 people who were on U.S.Airways Flight 1549 exactly 10 years ago Tuesday, they say they know that fact firsthand. They survived what could have become one of the worst air disasters ever in New York City, which instead became the most miraculous lifesaving event in aviation history.

"Two minutes in" to the flight, "there was a thud. It felt like we hit something," 31-year-old passenger Ian Wells told PIX11 News in an interview.

"You could hear the engines shutting down," he said. Next, there was thick smoke emerging from an engine, and "you saw a shot of an orange flame."

At the time, Wells was a college senior flying back to the University of Miami, with a layover in Charlotte, when a routine flight put him and all of the passengers and crew at risk of death.

"It's just that fear, that absolute fear [of going] from the unknown to 'Oh my God, this could be it!'" that most disturbed Wells, he said.

He had been sitting in the next-to-last row when the plane touched down on the surface of the Hudson.

"The way the plane hit, the back hit first," Wells said. "You stop, and you're like 'Oh my God, we survived!' But because we're in the back, water started immediately rushing into the plane."

"Now, it's a sense of 'I may have survived the impact,'" he said, describing his mindset immediately after the landing, "'but I'm gonna drown to death in this icy cold water,'" he said he'd thought at the time.

"Still to this day," he continued, "that is the scariest part of that flight."

What brought him out of that scare, or rather, who brought him out, was none other than the plane's captain, Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger.

"I was about to go onto the left side wing," Wells explained, but "there was no room for me" there to emerge from the plane.

Sully saw him,  and "said, 'We have more room on the life raft.'"

Once Wells climbed aboard the life raft, Sullenberger "asked the group [on board] and myself, 'Is anybody else back there [still on the plane]?'"

"He went back there to make sure all 150 [passengers] are off the plane."

Last Saturday, Wells was among a group of dozens of survivors and first responders who had a 10th reunion in Manhattan. It's a tradition they participate in every year.

"It's like a second family to me," one passenger told PIX11 News. "We're the only ones who can understand what this is like."

"In our second life, we're 10 years old now," said another passenger.

As for his second lease on life, Wells said that he didn't fully realize how precious it was until days after the Thursday afternoon emergency landing a decade ago.

"The whole gravity of the situation didn't hit me until the Sunday after," Wells said. "I remember sitting down for dinner. A wave of emotion" overcame him, he said.

"I thought, 'How do I change my life?"

He has since graduated from college, and has had a successful young career as a financial consultant. In all ways, he said, his experience has shown him the importance of taking risks.

More important than that, though, he said, "Really, it's the friendships I've made and friendships I've been able to strengthen. That's the most important thing over the last 10 years."

Whenever a larger group of survivors gets together, they call, Skype or FaceTime with Sullenberger, and he always takes their calls. He did so again at the Manhattan dinner last Saturday.

Often, he joins survivors at events. On Tuesday night, Sully will attend a larger gathering of survivors in Charlotte.

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