It’s a pre-flight ritual that some may find odd, but for Stephen Lis has proven to be truly therapeutic.
“Every time I get on a plane I put my hand on the side of the plane and I tell myself, ‘This plane is strong, this plane has done this a hundred times and this plane is safe,’” Lis said.
The Philadelphia businessman was one of the passengers on US Airways Flight 1549 back on January 15, 2009. After taking off from LaGuardia Airport in New York City, the plane struck a flock of geese, lost engine power and made an emergency landing in the Hudson River.
Amazingly Lis and the 154 other people on the flight all survived in the event known as the “Miracle on the Hudson.”
Lis wasn’t even supposed to be on the flight originally but had switched his ticket at the last minute. Lis still remembers the initial panic that swept through the plane once the passengers knew something was wrong.
“When we all realized it was dire is when the captain came on and said, ‘Brace for impact,’” Lis said. “There were some people who were crying. There were some people who were praying. The impact in the plane was pretty hard.”
While everyone survived the landing, Lis says the terrifying ordeal took a strong mental toll on him that lasted for years.
“I struggled for a while,” Lis said. “I got post-traumatic stress.”
Lis, who takes over 50 flights a year for his job, came up with his pre-flight ritual in order to help him cope. He experienced a significant setback a year ago however. He was on the Philadelphia flight to Dallas that had to land because of a threat. Even though it was a hoax, the second frightening flight experience put Lis into a tailspin once again.
“I had to work through it,” he said.
Lis says that getting a “1549” tattoo, learning to run marathons and attending annual reunions with both the passengers and the heroic pilot who landed the plane, Captain Chesley Sullenberger, has helped him get over the mental and emotional hurdles.
“We’re family,” Lis said. “We’re the only ones who experienced it and there’s a bond associated with that. When I think of my experience, I’m one of the luckiest people in the world.”