Hudson River Plane Crash Survivor Describes Ordeal

This is a rush transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," January 15, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

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BILL O'REILLY, HOST: And finally tonight, a survivor of U.S. Air Flight 1549. Fred Beretta was sitting in his seat over the left engine when it blew and when the pilot crash-landed in the frigid Hudson River. Mr. Beretta was experiencing what few of us will ever experience. Fred joins us now.

First of all, you live in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Click here to watch the interview!


O'REILLY: You're a banker, married, four children, 14, 13, 9, and 7. You're a pilot yourself.

BERETTA: Private pilot, right.

O'REILLY: So, let's pick it up. You take off from LaGuardia Airport. It's a cold day. Sunny. You get up in the air. Take it away.

BERETTA: Sure. Normal takeoff. Very smooth. Was just kind of settling back in the seat and heard the left engine make a pretty loud noise and looked out and said, "Wow, that looks strange." And it was sort of sputtering, and OK, we lost the left engine.

O'REILLY: You could see it?

BERETTA: I could.

O'REILLY: All right. So the left engine sputtering. You didn't see any geese or anything, did you?


O'REILLY: So you knew there was a left engine in trouble?


O'REILLY: Your reaction then?

BERETTA: At that point I became concerned about the right engine, was hoping that that was working. So we talked to the folks in the row on the right side of the aircraft and said, "Hey, what's going on over there?" And, unfortunately, said not a lot. So at that point, you know, probably the fear escalated.

O'REILLY: In you?

BERETTA: I think in me and everyone, really, on the plane.

O'REILLY: All right. So everybody in the plane then knew there was something wrong. The pilot still hadn't come on the overhead, right?


O'REILLY: So, was there panic on the plane?

BERETTA: No. There really wasn't that I recall at all. The pilot started to make a gradual left turn, and we were all kind of waiting, you know. We knew that he would say something eventually. It seemed like a long time, although it probably was only a couple of minutes.

O'REILLY: Three minutes between takeoff and when you hit the water. So, the plane quiet?

BERETTA: It was. It was quiet. You know, I heard a couple emotional outbursts, but nothing major at that time.

O'REILLY: OK. Now, the pilot comes on and says?

BERETTA: The only words I recall him saying were "Prepare for impact."

O'REILLY: And how far ahead of when you hit the water did that happen?

BERETTA: Well, Bill, it seemed like an eternity, but I'm sure it was only a couple of minutes. But it was a bit of time. And I watched the wing. I watched him extend the flaps and really was trying to just gauge when we were about to hit the water so I could be prepared for that.

O'REILLY: Did you know you were over the Hudson and going down into the Hudson?


O'REILLY: So you could see out the window what the situation was?


O'REILLY: Now, at this point was the plane still quiet as you were descending down or were people getting a little scared?

BERETTA: It was still really quiet. I think everyone was just stunned. Sort of the reality of it was — people were just assimilating that.

O'REILLY: Do you remember what you were thinking?

BERETTA: I thought — I looked out the window and I thought there's a good chance we're going to die. And I did think about my family and started praying.

O'REILLY: Are you a religious man?

BERETTA: I am. Try to be.

O'REILLY: Were other people praying aloud?

BERETTA: I didn't hear any, but I could tell. I just kind of glanced around, and people were either just sort of closing their eyes or, you know, sitting quietly for the most part. People were pretty calm.

O'REILLY: OK. You hit the water. We understand it was a big — everybody went up in the air. What happened to you?

BERETTA: Well, it — I described this before. It did seem for — I'm sure it was only a few milliseconds or a few seconds — it did seem like a ride at Disney World. I felt like I was on Space Mountain for a couple of seconds. The impact was intense. Really, just hoping the plane was staying intact and was amazed when we looked up that it was.

O'REILLY: OK. Did you leave your seat or were you still buckled in?

BERETTA: I was still buckled in. People were shouting to the passengers in the exit row to open the doors, which they did. Did a great job. So...

O'REILLY: So the passengers themselves opened the exit doors?

BERETTA: As I recall, yes.

O'REILLY: OK. Was the flight and crew doing anything in particular? Did anybody else say anything on the overhead?

BERETTA: I don't remember any instructions. I do remember seeing the flight crew helping people exit the aircraft. They were calm.

O'REILLY: Were you in an exit row or just over the wing?

BERETTA: No. I was just over the wing. I was a few rows behind.

O'REILLY: How did you get out?

BERETTA: We all waited our turn to get out.

O'REILLY: No pushing, shoving, panic?

BERETTA: No. There — I mean, there were certainly — people were close together, but I don't — the people weren't trampling each other or walking over each other. People were really letting folks get out in order.

O'REILLY: Water coming into the plane?

BERETTA: There could have been. We — I didn't see any.

O'REILLY: When you got out — and I'm going to carry over Fred to the end of the broadcast here — when you got out, were you standing on the wing?


O'REILLY: OK. So you were on the wing. Were you helping out — was everybody out? Were you one of the first or last to get out?

BERETTA: Well, at that point I was probably about halfway through, and I was trying to help people come out of the craft into the wing.

O'REILLY: Was anybody hurt?

BERETTA: There seemed to be some bruises. People were in shock. It was hard to tell if — there weren't any serious injuries.

O'REILLY: But nobody acting out or doing anything that was out of control that you saw?


O'REILLY: Isn't that amazing for 155 people? You would think that there would be somebody going out of control, but there wasn't anybody.

BERETTA: No. It was amazing.

O'REILLY: All right. So you get out on the wing, and then, as we discussed earlier, the rescue guys were there almost instantaneously.

BERETTA: They were. We were really hoping that they would get there, get out on the wing and the next thing you are thinking is there were some folks in the water and you're thinking, all right, can I live through this ordeal of getting in the water, as the plane goes down and how long will we have once we're in the water?

O'REILLY: Did you see people in the water?

BERETTA: There were.

O'REILLY: OK. Because that's hypothermia…

BERETTA: Yes. You've got to get them out of there.

O'REILLY: But you didn't get in the water?

BERETTA: No, just about up to my ankles.

O'REILLY: OK, and you got into a craft and they took you to Manhattan?


O'REILLY: Now, did your wife know that this was happening to you? Did she know you were in that flight? Because almost instantaneously the TV news went on it. Did she know?

BERETTA: No, she didn't. She knew I was flying back from New York, but she didn't know the plane that had gone down…

O'REILLY: That was a good thing, right?


O'REILLY: When you finally got to a phone and called her what was that all about?

BERETTA: Well, I actually left her a message as she was leaving to pick up my sons at the bus stop. So she — and then I got to her first.

O'REILLY: Now, looking back, how do you digest this? You seem very calm here and obviously articulate. It's a miracle, right?

BERETTA: I think so. I'm convinced that it is. That many people to get off that plane in a few seconds, it's amazing. I'm still trying to process it, to be quite honest.

O'REILLY: When are you going to go home?

BERETTA: Tomorrow.

O'REILLY: Look, Fred, you know, it was really nice of you to come in after all you've been through today. And we're just — we're so happy that everybody — and this is just a great example of people keeping composed. Nobody got killed and everybody did their job. We really appreciate it, and we're glad you're safe.

BERETTA: Sure, thank you.

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