‘Miracle on the Hudson’

Some sentences you just never forget. They get etched into the hard surfaces of your brain like a stony epitaph. For Lisa Hood, those words likely are: “Mark’s OK. He’s in the Hudson.”

Dubbed the “Miracle on the Hudson,” the nation was amazed when on Jan. 16, 2009, U.S. Airways Flight 1549 made an emergency landing in the Hudson River, after taking off from LaGuardia airport just moments before. No one was seriously injured. No one acted wrecklessly; the dark side of human nature was strangely absent.

Mark Hood, a businessman on board that flight, came to  Naples, Fla., last month to speak about his experience with Naples Christian Academy and Manantial De Vida Church.

He says he knows what really happened during that flight – God was in control.

Some of the media didn’t want to report it that way, but Mark insists that his story be told truthfully.

The retired marine is still all military, with his taut posture, alertness and poise. That military training came in handy after the crash, but it wasn’t nearly as vital as his faith.

Mark, a sales manager with Pentax Medical, travels frequently. Jan. 16 began as a very ordinary day, with business and tasks and finally a flight home that afternoon.

Only a minute or two after takeoff, Mark recalls, he was chatting with a woman named Denise seated next to him.

Then, he says, “I heard a big boom, and saw a gray blurb shoot by the window.”

Not realizing that both engines were gone, he assumed that they would probably be forced back to LaGuardia. As the plane made a lazy left turn over the Bronx, Mark realized that the pilot was heading for the Hudson River. He began to pray with his seatmate as the plane descended for what seemed like half an hour but was truly less than two minutes. He clearly remembers the thoughts he had at that moment, which could have been his last.

“Lord, I never thought You’d take me this way,” he prayed, “but it’s Your will.”

He then prayed for his wife and children and for the pilot. He prayed that his wife Lisa would find happiness with someone else when he was gone.

Helplessly strapped in his seat, he remembers, “When it’s all stripped down, the only thing you have to hold on to is your faith in God. I thought I’d said my last prayer as a man.”

They heard the pilot announce, “Brace for impact!”

“By then, God had already told me that we all were going to live”, he said.

Mentally he was anticipating where and how they might land, what they might run into and what the situation would be. Then, they hit the water, and the plane came to a slow, spinning stop. When the motion stopped, Denise looked up from her seat next to Mark and asked, “Is this heaven?”

Mark jumped into action, helping Denise out of the plane and then pulling other passengers from the freezing water, noting that some were already blue-lipped and suffering hypothermia, trying to help heavily clothed men into the raft and lift the women up in a gentlemanly way. They began arranging the survivors in the raft according to condition and position them in a way that their body heat could benefit one another.

This was where his military training came into play.

“Anything you do to improve your situation in a disaster will lead to an extension of life,” he says.

“The one advantage we had is – we were all alive in that raft.”

Mark then stepped aside and offered to let Captain Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger III aboard the raft. The captain declined, insisting he would be the last to board.

Mark later said of the pilot, “He’s a prince of a man. Through his poise and calm, he demonstrated true leadership on an unparalleled level.”

Then, Mark tried to call his wife with his cellphone which he had managed to keep dry. But his fingers were too cold and frozen to dial. He was only able to hit the repeat last call button. The call connected to one of his salesmen named Gary, who he asked to let Lisa know that her husband was OK.

At that time, she didn’t even know about the crash.

She was on the house phone when the cell phone rang, and she received the message from Gary that Mark was OK and in the Hudson.

To that she replied, “You have my full attention,” and Gary filled her in with the little he knew. A few minutes later she saw the pictures on the News. She and Mark later connected on the phone, and she watched him on TV as he was ferried away to safety.

He did not turn his attention to getting warmed up until he had done all he could possibly do to assist the passengers and crew in the situation.

“I would rather be left face down in the water,” he said, “than do anything that would dishonor Christ, my family or the Marine Corp.”

He then bravely booked another flight home.

Lisa had been praying for her husband that day as she did every day, noting the time and anticipating where he was in his travels and asking for his safety.

Even after receiving the News, she said, “I had a real peace about it, [the kind] that only God can give you.”

It wasn’t Mark’s first brush with danger or difficulty. As a combat leader in Desert Storm, he was in Iraq when he received the News through the Red Cross Emergency Service that Lisa had gone into labor, “prognosis poor.”

Their twins, who were born prematurely at 26 weeks, just went off to college this year.

Mark says he always has a running conversation going on with the Lord in his head. In combat situations, it helped him make good decisions, as he talked every move over with God.

Where does that kind of faith come from?

“My father taught me how to be a Christian,” Mark explains. “He was a godly man who never strayed from his faith.

“His character was forged through WWII … the Depression. He knew privations and the grace of God. He lived his faith every day. He didn’t have to say anything. I became a Christian at 6.”

After the plane crash, Mark was inundated with requests for interviews, but he soon decided that he would not interview with anyone unless they would allow him to talk about God and Jesus Christ. One of his first radio interviews cut him off as soon as he said “Jesus.”

Both Lisa and Mark were able to maintain an amazing peace during and after the crash, because of the assurance and comfort of knowing where Mark would be if, in fact, he’d died that day.

“The folks we are surrounded by will spend a lifetime looking for proof that Jesus exists, and looking for miracles,” he says. “We saw one on Jan. 15.”

He goes on to ask, “When you have your Flight 1549 … do you know where you’re going?’

Today Mark and Lisa live in Charlotte, N.C., and attend King of Kings Anglican Missions of America Church. Their twins, Maggie and Hayward, are both away at school. Mark still works for the same company and still travels by air frequently.

He uses every flight as an opportunity to share his testimony of God’s faithfulness and his story of the “Miracle on the Hudson.”

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