CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Nearly 2 1/2 years after a US Airways jet made a miraculous landing on the Hudson River, passengers and crew members will reunite in the North Carolina city where the aircraft was bound on that January day.
The damaged Airbus A320 jet piloted by Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger III has spent the last two years in a hangar just outside Newark, N.J. at Supor and Sons, a company that specializes in large-scale salvage and moving parts.
On June 6, the plane will begin its 650-mile journey to the Carolinas Aviation Museum in Charlotte, where it will go on permanent display. Charlotte was the destination of US Airways Flight 1549 until a flock of geese disabled the engines. Sullenberger glided it to a safe landing on the Hudson outside New York City and all 155 passengers and crew members were rescued.
It will take about five days for the plane to reach the museum, director Shawn Dorsh said. On June 11, crew members and passengers will view the plane in a private showing. That night, the museum will hold a fundraiser for the exhibit, where Sullenberger, recently named an aviation and safety expert for CBS News, will be the guest speaker.
"Having everyone here is real exciting," Dorsh said. "People in the community are stepping forward to help. They recognized the importance of the artifacts."
The museum has been raising money for the exhibit. Officials say they have collected enough to transport the plane to Charlotte, where Arizona-based US Airways also has a hub, and exhibit the aircraft in the museum.
Dorsh said a "full blown exhibit" would cost $2.4 million, adding: "That's something we would work toward over time. Our fund-raising is ongoing. But we're going to have a tremendous exhibit for far less."
Much of the design for the exhibit has been worked out.
"It's going to be displayed as if came out of the water," Dorsh said. "If there's a dent in the airplane that happened in the water, it's going to stay on the airplane. If it's a dent that happened in the storage yard, we're going to fix it. We want it to look like it did when it came out of the water -- frozen in that moment in time."
He said he's excited the public will be able to see the exhibit unfold. The museum will be open while mechanics work on the display.
"They will be able to see a modern commercial airliner assembled before their eyes," he said.
Right now, museum officials are planning the logistics for the trip. Supor and Sons, which is donating its services, has built a special trailer to transport the plane. The wings have been detached from the plane and will be moved separately from the 120-foot-long fuselage.
Trip planners are trying to find the right route. For example, they can't use the New Jersey Turnpike because the aircraft can't fit through the tollbooths.
For Mike Berkwits, this will be the first time seeing the plane since he escaped from it with his wife on Jan. 15, 2009. There have been passenger reunions. But this is the first one with the passengers, Sullenberger and the plane.
"It's a confused feeling," the Charlotte business owner said Friday about attending the viewing. "In some ways it's surreal. In some ways, my head says, `It's just a damn plane.' And then in other ways I say, `This is a plane that has a special personal connection.' But then your head says,
`How can you have a connection to a plane?
But he hopes that examining the plane will help him get over the accident.
"It may be a coming of full circle for us -- to see the plane and know that we all survived it. And maybe it will take a little more of the edge off that event because deep down, there's post-traumatic stress to this. It's there all the time. It's a dull murmur in the background."