By Brian Graves, Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 16, 2013 —
“Every airplane has a story,” said former Richfield Mayor Floyd Wilson as he walks past the many aeronautics vehicles on display at Carolinas Aviation Museum.
And Wilson knows each and everyone of those stories and the stories of the people involved.
It was Wilson and his late wife, Lois, who 21 years ago initiated the idea of an aviation museum when the Charlotte airport announced it would demolish its old hangar.
After finding a group of people who shared their love of aviation, the Carolinas Aviation Museum opened its doors in that old hangar.
But when the airport had to expand its runways, the museum was transferred to a larger hangar and it is there that one of the most iconic stories in domestic aviation has found a home.
It began four years ago today when a US Airways Flight 1549 was on its way back to Charlotte from New York.
Three minutes into the flight, a flock of Canada Geese caused the complete loss of thrust from both engines.
Once pilots ‘Sully’ Sullenberger and Jeffrey Skiles realized they could not make it safely back to an airport, they ditched the plane in the Hudson River.
Those photographs of the 151 passengers on the wings and flotation devices in the river have taken their place alongside other memorable photos in American history.
The museum has a wall-size duplicate of that photo and when certain special guests come to the museum, they are always asked to point out where they are in the photo.
The guests are now traditionally and annually the 155 passengers of Flight 1549 who can make the trip.
Pam Seagle was one of those passengers and she is more than happy to take museum visitors to the wall and point out where she was as cameras come out to take pictures.
She admits she has answered just about every question that could be asked about that January day three years ago and prefers having the conversational talk with interested people than the set-piece media interview.
“I like that one-on-one connection that’s more than sitting down in front of a camera,” Seagle said.
“And you get tired of answering the same things over and over.”
So, why does she continue to allow herself to come to the museum and talk to interested visitors about a day most would want to forget?
“These people are asking questions that I would ask,” Seagle said.
“I had the same fears before I got on (the plane). They ask things very human, the same things my neighbor would ask like ‘What were you thinking?’ and ‘How did you get your clothing back?’ There are practical things about it that are interesting.”
She said she also likes talking to the younger set but answers their questions in a somewhat different fashion.
“I get the question about whether I was scared and I don’t want to create a fear that doesn’t exist and set up a child to be afraid of flying. So, when there are children here, I think about how I answer the question,” she said.
Seagle said she has many adults come to her saying they have a fear of flying and she offers tips and advice on how to handle such fears.
One could just shout out “12A” and Seagle would immediately know someone was talking about her.
It was her seat number on the flight and Seagle says it’s become a regular thing for survivors to contact each other only using their seat numbers.
“I was in Boston one time and ‘Sully’ was giving a speech there,” Seagle recalled.
“He found out I was in town, invited me to the event and delayed his talk until I got there. Then, he introduced me as ‘12A.’ ”
“It’s how we talk to each other and it puts you in relation to others and shows our relationship to each other,” Seagle said.
She said despite her experience, she has a love for aviation.
“When fighter jets come over, I’m a kid,” Seagle said.
“I will jump up and down.”
Seagle’s son is a student at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington majoring in film production and her story is going to be in one of his future projects.
“When the plane was delivered here, he took a camera down the aisle with the passengers sitting in the seats,” Seagle said.
“He is now editing it with a perspective of one of the passengers instead of just a reporter.”
“Since we got the ‘Miracle on the Hudson’ it has changed the whole dynamic of the museum,” Museum Director Wally Coppinger said.
“The board decided to hire an internationally-known museum designer to come up with a concept with more theatrical type lighting. It’s more dramatic than just walking into a hangar full of airplanes. If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times. ‘Wow!’ ”
Coppinger said they try to tell the story as one moves around the exhibit.
“You really couldn’t take a self-guided tour before,” he said, noting the museum now has several placards and video screens with information around the plane as well as the other vehicles on display.
Coppinger said the Hudson plane has increased visitors and has put the museum on the map, but it does not want to be the “Flight 1549 museum” and has aircraft that have not yet been put on display.
“Everyone of these planes is not just a piece of metal,” Coppinger said.
“There is a human element story to each aircraft. On Flight 1549, there were 155 passengers and 155 stories. Most can relate to those human stories. So, we try to tell a human story with each aircraft.”
Coppinger said it is also the desire of the museum to inspire the young.
“A lot of the kids just think ‘pilot,’ ” Coppinger said.
“It takes more than a pilot to get a plane in the air. It takes the concept and design, then the person who maintains it.”
Coppinger said there are some exciting events and news coming in the near future about the museum.