Ask her age and you’ll find that Tracey Allen-Wolsko keeps time a little differently than the rest of us.
“I’m 38 in human years,” she says, “and 1 in Flight 1549 years.”
A year ago, she was among those who heard the menacing command, “Brace for impact,” as her U.S. Airways jetliner barreled in for a belly-skid in the frigid Hudson River.
Today, she is one of dozens of passengers gathering in New York to toast the first anniversary of what in known as the “Miracle on the Hudson.”
For many of the 150 passengers aboard the bird-struck flight, the year since the near catastrophe last Jan. 15 has been transformative.
Some have become minor media celebrities; others have renegotiated their lease on life. Lori Lightner of Tega Cay quit her job and became a Red Cross volunteer. At least one baby has joined the greater family. And Charlotte-bound strangers Ben Bostic and Laura Zych are now sweethearts.
For Allen-Wolsko, one of some 80 Charlotte-area fliers aboard the plane, it has been a year of simplifying. Gone are the 80-hour workweeks. For her husband’s birthday in October, she surprised him with a trip to Las Vegas.
“You just don’t sweat the small stuff anymore,” says the Bank of America executive. “You realize that in five minutes, you’re just not going to care that the person in front of you is writing a check at the grocery store.”
‘Let’s just hold hands’
Allen-Wolsko was on her way home from New York to celebrate her second wedding anniversary. She sat in 26B, a middle seat, in the last row of the cabin. When the plane ripped through a formation of Canada geese and the engines choked, her seatmates reached for their cell phones.
Put away the phones, she told them. “Let’s just hold hands and pray.”
After splashdown, she climbed over seat backs as water poured in, and crawled onto the wing. Within minutes, she was rescued by the crew aboard the ferry Yogi Berra. Its captain wrapped his coat around her.
“We saw some of the best sides of humanity on that river that day,” she says.
Theresa Leahy, 50, a fellow BofA exec who sat in 5C, says the year has been one of introspection but was hardly life-changing.
“I didn’t go overboard on it,” says Leahy, who is excited about embracing her New York rescuers again today.
This morning, Clay Presley, president of Carolina Pad and occupant of seat 15D, will personally thank those who came to their aid in a speech at a Red Cross breakfast.
He says the last year has been one in which he enjoyed his family more than ever and became a stronger Christian.
He’s developed a contempt for rude people and finds himself now looking on the positive side of things.
“The last thing you want to be remembered for is being a jerk,” says Presley, 55, of Charlotte.
On his work desk, he keeps a picture of the passengers standing on the wings in the river.
“It’s a daily reminder of how fragile and quick life is, and how it’s totally out of your control.”
Allen-Wolsko says she has been through a cascade of emotions in the last year, but is pleased where the journey of Flight 1549 eventually took her.
“It’s a new me,” she says. “I like the new me better than the old me.”