10th Anniversary of the Crash Landing on the Hudson

Sink or Swim by Karin Rooney and Jessie Santala | Deep River Books

Author and Crash Survivor Karin Rooney talks about the upcoming anniversary, still dealing with anxiety, and what God has shown her since that fateful day in January of 2009.


On January 15, 2009, Flight 1549 hit a flock of geese mere minutes after takeoff. Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger brought the 155-passenger plane to a relatively safe crash-landing, and all survived—but not unscathed. One of the passengers, Karin Rooney, teamed up with writer Jessie Santala to share her experience of the crash and the resulting PTSD in their 2017 book, Sink or Swim: Life After Crash Landing in the Hudson.

Next month is the 10-year anniversary of the “Miracle on the Hudson.” We caught up with Karin on her thoughts regarding a reunion, experiencing “extreme empathy,” and parenting through the lens of this experience.


Deep River Books: You have had Flight 1549 anniversaries and reunions in the past, are there any reunion plans with the other survivors in January? Do you plan to see any of the staff or crew? Will you see Captain Sully?

Karin Rooney: There is a big reunion planned in North Carolina at the aviation Museum where the plane is housed. As of today were are still unsure if we will be going. We don’t have long to decide! Many factors are playing into this but due to some family events as well as the timing of the were not sure we can make it happen. We continue to send Christmas cards to Captain Sully and he sends us Christmas cards as well. We also keep up with a handful of passengers from the crash on a consistent basis. We have truly made dear friends and we value the ability to walk with a few passengers on a more personal level.

DRB: In your book Sink or Swim, you talk about how you felt the most anxiety and trauma over the crash landing more than a year later, once things died down a bit. A lot of your family and friends expected you to be fine after a certain amount of time. Are you feeling any anxiety with the 10th anniversary coming up?

KR: It has been 10 years since the crash and over the years that anxiety has ebbed & flowed. It was definitely the worst in the first few years after the plane crash but by the passage of time, and by working through the trauma and addressing the underlying beliefs, my anxiety has lessened. There are still days and moments that I do have more anxiety or worries that are similar to what I experienced [in the early years] after the crash. I would say my most anxious time of the year is December and January and I think a lot of that has to do the fact that my body does remember the trauma and it’s the time I talk about the crash the most. I have to do things to help myself remain calm and tap into a lot of the things that I learned over the years that have help me the most to combat the anxiety, by bringing in the truths to calm my spirit and relax my body. I make a conscious decision to not be driven by the worries or fears or physical responses that anxiety creates [in] me.

There have been times I’ve had to consciously ask myself where these thoughts are coming from. Is this feeling something that I’ve let run rampant and now I have spiraled down or is the thought that I initially had something that I truly need to address and investigate and walk through and talk through? I have definitely developed a deeper self-awareness of these thoughts and triggers. With children, I have to figure out why I am responding to my kids in a certain way; why am I being snippy, why am I being short, why is their screaming making me feel anxiety? A lot of times I can sense that I’m not seeing the situation clearly and I need to stop, get some self-control, get my mind back on the track of truth that I want to be on.  I think the enemy knows that my body will physically respond without even thinking about it to certain triggers (kids screaming, loud noises) and that is why I have to be so aware of what the trigger is and if my response is the healthiest.

DRB: One of the “side effects” of the Hudson landing you mention is your heightened sense of empathy toward others who also went through or going through a traumatic event. This really helped you understand others’ pain and suffering. Yet at the same time, some of these events were really affecting you in a crippling way. Has this level of empathy subsided?

KR: It’s interesting because I think my level of empathy has stayed the same and probably grown. My thinking [about] and response to the needs of people is different. Early on, I thought that I needed to know exactly how they felt and I needed to dwell on their pain to understand how to care for them. Today I can separate their experience [from] my response to be caring, gentle, encouraging, and supportive.

I am more confident in how I respond to people and I can support them without offering advice and without having to enter into their trauma.

DRB: Your walk with Christ and scriptural truth was vital in the healing process. What has God done or shown you in the last few years as you continue to go through this process?

KR: I would say it is still the lifeline to my life today. Especially with children and having anxiety that comes and goes throughout the year, I know the things that calm my heart and the things that give me the most strength to address the situations that are out of my control. Parenting, as wonderful as children are, often makes me feel out of control. I don’t know when someone’s going to fall and hurt themselves; I don’t know when someone’s going to come screaming; and so I have to be stable in my emotions. The thing that helps the most is having constant communication with God, trusting that when moments are out of control I can lean on the Lord for guidance. I desire to grow and know the Lord more and more and for a long time I was afraid of God because I was afraid of what he would ask me to do. Today I still feel a little apprehension when I think about surrendering certain parts of my life, the future being my biggest hurdle of surrender. I talked about this in the epilogue of the book, but my position in Christ was something that I didn’t understand when the plane crash happened; at the time I was still reaching for a seat at the table with Christ. I now know that [my place at the table] is sealed! I’ve also been working to bring out the things of Christ, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. For so long I was trying to get away from anxiety get away from fear and get away from the trauma instead of asking the Lord for his peace, his joy, his confidence, his everything. I have been able to focus on what God gives to me—his joy, his confidence, the list goes on—instead of what the enemy tries to give me, worry, fear, anxiety, etc.

After addressing the trauma from the plane, I was more easily able to address the spiritual needs I had. I could pray and ask for peace, but the work to address the anxiety on a physiological level was a huge part of me being able to see God clearly. When you don’t feel well, it’s hard to think clearly.

DRB: You and your husband Chris Rooney—who was also on US Airways flight 1549—now have three kids. Do you ever talk to them about your experience? How has this event influenced the way you parent?

KR: For a long time, I didn’t want to talk about the plane crash in front of the kids because most of the time during interviews I was talking about how traumatized I was [with] the anxiety and the catastrophic thoughts that I was having. But over the years our kids have heard us talking about it and they actually think it’s a funny story that mommy and daddy landed on the water. They have made no connection that this was a traumatic or difficult event. My six-year-old daughter takes great joy in sharing with people that we were on a plane that landed on the water.

DRB: You co-wrote the book with Jessie Santala, a gifted photographer and writer you met at a mutual friend’s wedding. How is she doing? Are you still in contact with her?

KR: Jessie and I have kept up over the years and especially when the book came out last year. We are still in contact and I know that she has a lot of wonderful exciting things happening in her life with her children and husband, and she continues to use her talents (writing & photography) to love God and others in her life.

Jessie is still doing photography on the side. Currently she is working on a couple of book ideas (a non-fiction, devotional-type manuscript, and then a historical fiction one as well)…not too far along because being a mama keeps her pretty busy!


Over the past year, Karin has received attention from media outlets not only across the country, but even over in Europe. Talk Radio Europe, Spain’s largest English-speaking radio program, hosted her on a live radio interview. The station reaches about a half million listeners in Spain, along with additional listeners from 120 different countries via their website and app. Karin has also been featured on CBS (Denver and Dallas), and websites like Bold Journey and Faith Heirlooms. Between these media appearances, she’s had three book launch parties—two in Colorado, immediately on and after the release date, and one in Fort Worth, Texas, on the anniversary of the crash a year ago.

A year after its release, Karin has continued to find peace in giving Sink or Swim to God. She has been, and continues to be, faithful to do her part, but she knows that ultimately this book’s success can’t depend on any human effort—it is his work and his story.