Living the 'Sully' movie: Arizona woman recounts US Airways Flight 1549

Living the 'Sully' movie: Arizona woman recounts US Airways Flight 1549, The 'Miracle on the Hudson' story is retold in a new movie starring Tom Hanks. Tracey Wolsko was one of the passengers on the 2009 flight.

Ken Burns' 'Defying the Nazis: The Sharps' War' crisply portrays an American couple's heroism Stalwart cast labors earnestly in Meg Ryan-directed World War II drama 'Ithaca' Clint Eastwood and Tom Hanks team up to tell the tale of a stoic, heroic 'Sully' Like the flight it’s based on, ‘Sully’ is way too short

Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Tom Hanks, left) and Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) are initially seen as heroes in "Scully."(Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures)

Tracey Wolsko wasn't supposed to be on US Airways Flight 1549 that freezing mid-January day in 2009.

The 37-year-old banker, in New York City on a business trip, was booked on a 5 p.m. flight home to Charlotte, N.C., but decided to go standby for the 2:45 p.m. flight so she could have dinner with her husband. She had missed their second anniversary two days earlier, the second year in a row she wasn't home to celebrate.

Her manager was on the earlier flight and suggested she come along to LaGuardia Airport and try to get on Flight 1549.

"Worst case, you'll sit at the airport,'' she said.

Wolsko was thrilled to get one of the last seats on the flight: a middle seat in the last row of the plane. She called her husband to tell him she made it and would call when she landed.

Chandler resident Tracey Wolsko, also known as passenger 26B, was in the middle seat in the plane's last row. (Photo: Dawn Gilbertson/The Republic)

The next time she talked to him she was crammed onto one of the plane's emergency slides, shoeless and shivering, floating in the Hudson River. A bunch of her fellow passengers were perched on the plane's wings.

"I called him and I said, 'My plane crashed. I'm in the Hudson. I'm OK. Call my mother. I have to go.'''

Related: Goodykoontz 'Sully' review | Fall movie preview | 10 movies we can't wait to see | 14 questions for Passenger 26B

A film cameo

A bird strike had crippled both of the plane's engines just after takeoff and US Airways Capt. Chesley "Sully'' Sullenberger, racing against the clock, decided he couldn't safely make it back to LaGuardia or another airport so glided the plane into the Hudson. The 150 passengers and five crew members survived.

The landing made international headlines and was instantly dubbed the "Miracle on the Hudson.'' Pilot Sullenberger and the rest of the crew were called heroes.

The drama is in the spotlight again with Friday's release of "Sully,'' the long-awaited movie about the January 15, 2009 incident.  Clint Eastwood directed it and Tom Hanks plays Sullenberger. Wolsko has a cameo in the credits as passenger 26B, her seat assignment on the plane.

Wolsko, who moved to Arizona from North Carolina in December, saw the movie at the local premiere in Scottsdale Tuesday. The official premiere, which Eastwood, Hanks and Sullenberger attended, was in New York City the same day.

Remembering the fateful day

Wolsko was an anxious flier before Flight 1549. The accident landed her in therapy for six months. Nonetheless, she said she was looking forward to seeing the film. The first trailer for the movie had given her chills. She figured some events would be dramatized for Hollywood and was OK with that as long as "Sully''  accurately portrayed how the passengers and crew helped each other out that day.

"It's kind of like going back for a high school reunion. You have a vision in your head of what you recall, and you know your story,'' she said. "I have to remind myself that whatever's going to unfold, it's somebody's vision and interpretation of our event.''

Tom Hanks plays Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger in "Sully." (Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures)

She brought her husband and a dozen friends and bank co-workers to the premiere and proclaimed it "pretty dead on.'' (The only part she found overblown was the drama in the National Transportation Safety Board hearings, which she attended.)

After one intense scene in the movie -- and there are many -- a friend asked Wolsko how it was possible her heart wasn't pounding like hers.

"I think it's because I've actually seen every reenactment of it,'' she said. "And I know what the crash itself was like.''

Only the opening scene gave her pause. It features a nightmare Sullenberger has where the plane ends up diving into New York skyscrapers on a failed return to LaGuardia.  From the second Sullenberger told passengers to "brace for impact'' that day, Wolsko said she had never really contemplated an alternative ending to Flight 1549's troubles.

"I don't know if I ever thought for a minute I was going to die,'' she said.

Praying with her seat mates

She still can't fully explain why she was so positive, the plane relatively calm in the scant 208 seconds between the bird strike and the splash landing. (She had taken a fraction of Xanax anti-anxiety pill before the flight as she did before every flight).

Raised Jewish, she considers herself more spiritual than religious. Yet her first instinct when the trouble hit was to pray with her seat mates. One of them was about to call her husband and say goodbye, she says, but she persuaded her to join hands instead.

"God love your brain and how it works,'' she said. "There's a reason they say ignorance is bliss because I had no idea we lost both engines. Some (passengers) knew because it was eerily quiet on the plane. I didn't take eerily quiet and associate that with no engines, which is probably a good thing. I thought we lost one engine. I thought we were going back to LaGuardia. And when he said, "Brace for impact,'' I thought we would (just) overshoot or undershoot the runway.''

'I felt the gravity of the situation'

Wolsko says she didn't scream or cry on the plane or when she and other passengers were being rescued from the river by ferry boats. She didn't  break down at all until a few weeks later,  on a pre-planned trip to Las Vegas with her husband and mother. The trip started on a freaky note. Her room at Paris Las Vegas was 1549. Then she won $500 on a slot machine. On the same trip, though, she saw a TV report of another airline accident. A commuter plane crashed in upstate New York on Feb. 12, 2009, killing 49 passengers and crew and one person on the ground.

"I saw that and realized that could have been me,'' she said. "I think that was the first time I felt the gravity of the situation. That was the first time I felt the pain for what it could have been and realized the totality and the seriousness of what we just went through. It was just a lot of emotion.''

Wolsko says Flight 1549 will always be part of her identity, an iconic event that is a "cool part of who I am.'' She even lists it under experience on her LinkedIn profile. In between two banking jobs is this entry: Passenger 26B. Flight 1549.

related

How Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger rescued Tom Hanks during filming From Hanks to Huppert, cinephiles find common ground at Telluride Clint Eastwood and Tom Hanks talk 'Sully,' heroism, Trump, and 'five-dollar Friday' Married At First Sight episode 3 recap A guy wins $1 million on Channel 9’s Hot Seat tonight, but could you? The former child stars recreated some famous scenes from the movie What's that on the horizon? It's a weekend of classic wide-screen westerns coming to Beverly Hills. Thanks to abundant snow, the West can expect a long, rollicking river rafting season Your guide to the best Final Four viewing parties in Las Vegas From the mellow, little Mexican island of Holbox, travelers head out to swim with the world's largest fish How smooth is the sipping tequila from Casa Dragones in San Miguel de Allende? So smooth that Oprah called it dangerous It’s not just the wearing of the green on St. Pat’s; it’s the saving of it. Here are 6 ways to shave costs in Vegas Volcano watchers in Hawaii trekked dangerously close to Kilauea's lava — and got caught Everything's coming up primroses and poppies and ranunculuses, but these blooms won't last much longer Ojai goes a little crazy when Pixie tangerines arrive. Ready for a Pixie scrub or a Pixie margarita? Here's where to see the magnificent waterfalls that have returned to SoCal after the big rains Here's something you didn't know about Tijuana: It's a great weekend escape for food lovers