Man in Hudson plane crash called wife, then 911

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

But thanks to the pilot’s skill, a fast-acting corps of policemen and one 12-year-old boy, he said, “the stars were aligned for us” and he and the pilot were rescued.

Christopher Smidt, a correctional sergeant from Colonia, N.J., spoke at a ceremony honoring his rescuers at City Hall in Yonkers. He and the pilot, Denise De Priester of East Windsor, N.J., were released Monday from a New York City hospital, where they were taken after spending 20 to 30 minutes in the frigid water after the Sunday evening crash.

Smidt said he is a student pilot and De Priester is his flight instructor, but on Sunday they were just out for a sightseeing flight in her newly purchased 1967 Piper Cherokee.

He said neither of them knew what went wrong, but at some point around 5:20 p.m., “We knew the plane was going to go down.”

De Priester steered the plane over the river and set it down smoothly, he said, off Yonkers just north of New York City.

“Without her skills, this story would be going another way,” Smidt said.

Once the plane was in the water, Smidt said, he called his wife, Karen.

“I was hoping we would make it, but I didn’t know,” he said. “I told her: `We did crash in the Hudson. Tell the kids I love them.’ It was probably not the phone call any wife wants to hear.”

The Smidts have a 10-year-old son and a 12-year-old daughter.

Smidt then called 911, and a dispatcher told pilot and passenger to get out of the plane in life vests before it sank. Getting into the water, chunky with ice, is “nothing I wish on anybody,” Smidt said.

After about 15 minutes, he said, “I knew my body was starting to shut down. … I couldn’t paddle.”

But soon he heard the sound of a rescue boat and figured, “This is going to be a happy ending.”

Several off-duty or retired Yonkers police officers had been at a boat club on shore, and they commandeered a boat and set out to look for the plane.

Officer Daniel Higgins said they figured the chances of finding passengers alive in the darkness were like finding a needle “in a haystack factory.”

He took along his son, Daniel Jr., a seventh-grader who hopes to attend the U.S. Naval Academy.

When Smidt was pulled into the boat, young Higgins said, “His hands were shaking, so I took off my jacket and he wrapped it around his hands so he wouldn’t freeze.”

Smidt said he remembers thinking, “Wow, this guy looks pretty young to be a cop.”

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

Smidt said he has “aches and pains and some numbness in the fingers, but no complaints.”

Asked if he’d ever get in a plane again, he said, “Absolutely.”

More in Local News

Families begin relocating from public housing complex

Baker Heights is in need of repairs deemed to costly to make, and will be demolished and replaced.

Trail work by juvenile offenders builds resumes, confidence

Kayak Point trails were built out this year by groups from Denney Juvenile Justice Center.

Herald photos of the week

A weekly collection of The Herald’s best images by staff photographers and… Continue reading

Distress beacon leads rescuers to Pacific Crest Trail hikers

Two men in their 20s had encountered snow and waited two nights for a helicopter rescue.

Volunteers clean up homeless camp infested with garbage

The organization’s founder used to live and do drugs in the same woods.

Everett mayoral campaign is one of the priciest ever

Many campaign donors are giving to both Cassie Franklin and Judy Tuohy.

Arrests made in robbery-turned fatal Everett shooting

A man, 24, and woman, 18, were found at a hotel in Seattle.

Boeing marks the start of 777X production at Paine Field

It took tax breaks and union concessions to land assembly of the company’s new jetliner in Everett.

3 fire departments seek levies to support emergency services

District 25 in Oso is hoping to pass its first fire levy in 22 years.

Most Read