NJ man in Hudson plane crash called wife, then 911

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Associated Press

Posted on January 29, 2013 at 1:32 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jan 29 at 1:33 PM

YONKERS, N.Y. (AP) — A New Jersey man who was plucked from a plane crash in the icy Hudson River said Tuesday that he wasn't sure he'd survive, and contacted 911 only after calling his wife and asking her to "tell the kids I love them."

Chris Smidt, a correctional sergeant from Colonia, N.J., spoke at a ceremony honoring rescuers at City Hall in Yonkers, N.Y.

Smidt was a passenger Sunday evening as his flight instructor, Denise De Priester, of East Windsor, N.J., was taking his newly purchased plane for a spin along the scenic river. Something — he doesn't yet know what — went terribly wrong. He credits her smooth water landing with initially saving both their lives.

He called 911 and they followed the police dispatcher's order to get out of the sinking single-engine plane, then "everything went blank," Smidt said.

About 15 minutes after he and De Priester plunged into the frigid water, wearing life vests, "I knew my body was starting to shut down. ... I couldn't paddle," Smidt said.

It wasn't long after that when, to his relief, he heard the sound of a rescue boat and knew: "This is going to be a happy ending."

When Smidt was pulled into the boat, "His hands were shaking," recalled 12-year-old Dan Higgins Jr., who had rushed to help with his father, an off-duty police detective. "...I took off my jacket and he wrapped it around his hands so he wouldn't freeze."

"It feels good that I helped these people and I'm just glad they're alive," the young rescuer said.

De Priester, who did not attend the ceremony, also is out of the hospital now.

Smidt, asked if he'll fly again, replied: "Absolutely."

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