Patrick Harten

AP Photo/John Dunn, File

'Miracle On The Hudson' Air Traffic Controller To Run NYC Marathon

October 31, 2018 - 10:58 am
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NEW YORK (WCBS 880/AP) -- The air traffic controller who exhibited great calm as a commercial jet liner went down in the Hudson River almost 10 years ago is running the TCS New York City Marathon on Sunday.

New York air traffic controller Patrick Harten was the last person to speak to Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger on that frigid January day in 2009 that would go down in history.

After a double-bird strike damaged both engines of Flight 1549, Sullenberger safely landed the plane in the Hudson, saving all 155 passengers and crew onboard. The event became forever known as the "Miracle on the Hudson."

Months later, Harten would be praised by Sullenberger for keeping his cool under enormous pressure.

"You don't have time to digest the ramifications of what's going on," he tells WCBS 880's Marla Diamond. "You just kind of focus on this is the scenario, this is the problem, what can we do to fix the problem."

It's that grace under pressure that's helped the endurance athlete with the mental toughness that marathon training requires. 

And it's that mindset that will keep him going on the 26.2-mile route from Staten Island to Central Park.

"I want to go out there and just enjoy running through the streets of New York, which is a marathon I've always wanted to do, and just take in the whole experience of it," Harten said.

Harten is a second-generation air traffic controller, following the path of his father and 36-year veteran, Patrick Harten Sr. The younger Harten attended air traffic control school in Alaska after earning a degree in chemistry from Stony Brook University.

His father, who ran the 1985 NYC Marathon, introduced him to the sport. They started running together when Harten was 9, and he finished a half-marathon at 10. He's also competed in three Ironman triathlons — a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2-mile marathon.

He's training for his first NYC Marathon and fifth overall, including two Boston Marathons.

The two big parts of his life -- running and the "Miracle on the Hudson" -- will come together Sunday, when Sullenberger meets him at the finish line to put the finisher's medal around his neck.

"This is gonna be a different experience for me," Harten said. "I'm bringing two big parts of my life together... it's come together in this one event, and I'm just gonna try to enjoy the moment."

Patrick Harten, Sully
(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The bond between Harten and Sullenberger was forged on that 19-degree winter day. US Airways Flight 1549 left LaGuardia Airport and, shortly after takeoff, a flock of Canadian geese damaged both engines. Sullenberger asked Harten about landing at nearby Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, in case he got thrust back in one of the engines.

Sullenberger and first officer Jeff Skiles, who met three days earlier, went through the checklist of possibilities.

"We had to collaborate wordlessly and quickly realized there were only three options," Sullenberger told the Associated Press. "Two that we could not reach because we just didn't have enough energy or enough altitude or speed. The only place in the entire New York area that we could make was the river.

"I had to keep the wings exact level, I had to start the landing at the proper height, not too high and not too low to be able to touch the water with the least rate of descent and in the proper slightly nose-up attitude. I had to do a lot of things exactly right in those last few seconds simultaneously."

Sullenberger and Harten had about four minutes between the bird strike at 3:27 p.m. and ditching into the Hudson River at 3:31 p.m. Sullenberger credits four decades and "thousands of hours" of flight experience for the successful outcome. The first New York Waterway ferry reached the plane in just under four minutes, he said.

"The fact that we, the rescuers and first responders, were all able to come together to rise to the occasion and make it our mission in life to see everyone was saved is something that will define the rest of our lives," Sullenberger said.

Harten thought all the passengers perished after he lost radar contact when the plane dipped below the New York skyscrapers. Protocol required quickly leaving his position, reviewing the incident and preparing an official statement.

"I assumed that they had all died, I didn't think anyone survived that," Harten told Diamond.

Miracle On The Hudson
(AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File)

After about 45 minutes, a co-worker in the break room suggested someone should "probably go tell Patty that everyone is OK," Harten said. "Somebody came down and said to me, 'I think it looks like everyone made it.' I thought they were messing with me at first. In my mind, I thought they had all died.

"That was a pretty shocking — definitely a relief — but a pretty shocking thing to hear."

Sullenberger requested the pilot union's critical incident response team come to New York and provide survivors with a "road map" of expected symptoms — how the near-death experience would affect their thinking and sleep.

"We all experienced PTSD," the 67-year-old Sullenberger said. "It took a number of months to work our way through it. But people can be resilient.

"The critical insight for me, personally, was when I realized that I had to make this experience a part of me and not just something that happened to me. I had to be able to somehow integrate that into my psyche. And make it part of what makes me who I am."

Harten had the support of wife Regina, mother Mary, three siblings and his father.

"My dad could kind of help because he could relate to it more than the average person," said Harten, who is approaching 20 years as an air traffic controller, working six days a week, up to 10 hours a day.

Running also helped him cope, along with six weeks of therapy.

"I put the treadmill up to 10 mph and I just ran hard and held on for as long as I could," Harten said. "Whatever mental anguish I was feeling at the time, I'd replace it with physical pain."

These days, the 44-year-old Harten trains on the boardwalk in Long Beach. He's recently been slowed by leg cramps, but bikes to maintain his fitness. Whether he can "run a 3:20" or "walk after Mile 2," Harten says he'll get to the finish line.

"Running can be very therapeutic and you're going out there on your own. I don't listen to head phones. You kind of mentally work through stuff," he said. "We spend so much time on electronics and we're always exposed to some kind of entertainment. I don't think people spend enough time just thinking. Going out for a run is the perfect excuse to do that."

When he's not outdoors hiking with his wife, Sullenberger speaks about air safety, talks to veterans about resources for PTSD and advises on design safety for driverless cars.

The U.S. Air Force Academy graduate consulted on the 2016 movie "Sully," starring Tom Hanks. He wished the investigation scenes were "more nuanced."

The real passengers and crew will gather for the 10th anniversary at the Carolinas Aviation Museum, home to the reconstructed Airbus A320, in Charlotte, North Carolina.

"I call them the 1549 family," Harten said. "Sully is like the patriarch of the family. I think I can speak for just about everyone on that flight: He's the man."

(© 2018 WCBS 880. The Associated Press contributed to this report)