I remember that day. It was January 15th, and I was at Golf Channel preparing for Golf Central. My friend, Vince Cellini, said to me, 'Turn it to CNN.' What I saw was amazing: a small plane sitting in the frigid Hudson River with passengers standing on the wings while rescue boats converged. They looked OK, and my immediate thought was what an incredible sight. As I watched the passengers being taken off those wings of life, I started to think about something else; what was it like for them right before impact? A few months later I would find the answer to that question.
I was assigned to do a story on the 'Chicopee 6,” a group of guys who annually travel to Myrtle Beach from their hometown of Chicopee, Mass. to play golf. It was their escape from the harsh winters and an opportunity to pull out the clubs and shake off the rust. They were on that trip, on that fateful flight and had quite a story to tell.
I met Dave Carlos, Jim Stefanik, Jorge Morgado, Rick Delisle, Rob Kolodjay and his son Jeff Kolodjay in New York City. The group was laughing and flinging the needle at each other. They seemed like a bunch of guys you would meet at a bar and immediately be invited to share a beer with.
We started talking about how they got on Flight 1549. Originally, the guys were on a Spirit Air flight, but it was cancelled the day of their departure. After scrambling from ticket counter to ticket counter, they found six seats on US Airways. The seats were not together, but scattered about the cabin. Jeff Kolodjay sat at the front of the plane. His dad was at the back.
They described the unknown trouble the plane was having after takeoff. Each knew the situation was not good, but there was nothing coming from the captain. Suddenly, words finally erupted from the cockpit, 'Brace for impact!' The chill was immediate for all six. Then they answered the question I was searching for.
Each immediately felt their life was coming to an end. They had just seconds to reflect on everything. From childhood to fatherhood, the emotions came rushing out. Has their life been fulfilling? Did they do things the right way? Will their family be taken care of?
Rob Kolodjay sat at the rear of the aircraft. During those frantic seconds he reflected on his life which included raising a great family. His son, Jeff, a part of that family, sat 20 rows ahead of him. The two tried to make contact but the chaos prevented that.
The emotion of their story was overwhelming and punctuated when I took the six survivors to the Hudson River for the first time since the accident. Some brought their wives. All stared over the water in silence, reflecting on that day and what could have been.
Soon after, the tears were replaced by smiles. The six guys did go on their Myrtle Beach trip after all. They drove in a van this time instead of flying. I met up with them at a bar after their first day of playing. The joy on their faces was something I will never forget. Jeff Kolodjay insisted I have the group's signature golf trip drink, vodka and pineapple. After a couple of those, all the guys talked about what this trip meant to them. Their survival presented a new outlook on life. It's no longer about making it through the day but about making the most of the day.
The next morning, the group kindly invited me to play with them. That infectious attitude of joy and optimism was overwhelming. I asked Jeff Kolodjay to finish this sentence. 'Life to you now is?' He answered immediately, 'Perfect!'
After more jokes than birdies and one more signature drink, I said good bye and headed home. While flying back to Orlando, I realized this was not a story of survival but one of love. This was about a love for the game, a love for family and friends but more importantly, hitting the reset button on loving life.
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