Karin Rooney, author of Sink or Swim: Life After Crash Landing in the Hudson

From the Hudson to Book Parties—All in God’s Timing

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 new book, Sink or Swim: Life After Crash Landing in the Hudson.

As Karin talked with us about her writing and healing journey, she revealed how everything happened in God’s timing—from the three-year writing process to the search for a publisher.

Happily Ever After?

For Karin, her “Miracle on the Hudson” story begins with her relationship to then-boyfriend Chris Rooney. “There was a lot of stuff leading up to the crash,” she says. “Chris and I were about to break up.” They were at a pivotal point in their relationship. It was time to either move forward into engagement or end it. As they wrapped up their first big vacation together in New York City, this weighed on Karin’s mind.

They boarded Flight 1549 out of New York together, with that tension in the background. Shortly after takeoff, Karin heard what she describes as the noise and felt the plane shake. Chris tried to reassure her, but he knew something had gone wrong. In fact, with his view out the window, he knew what Karin did not: they weren’t going to make an emergency landing at the airport, and a crash was far more likely.

Most of the world knows the story—how Captain Sully took the plane into the Hudson, where all 150 passengers and 5 crew members were rescued. But Karin brings her own perspective in Sink or Swim, relating how the event impacted her in the moment and for years to come.

As frightening as the experience was, there was no immediate sign of lasting trauma. “Initially,” she explains, “it was just everything was a miracle, and we were thankful, joyful, and a little bit in denial that it could have been traumatic. So it was just an exciting time.”

In fact, that crash proved to be the catalyst Chris needed to finally propose. They married less than a year later, on December 31, 2009. Karin had a happy ending to a potentially deadly tale. It wasn’t until a year after the crash that its traumatic impact became undeniable.

One Year Later

Throughout 2009, Karin had plenty to keep her busy: work, school, friends, wedding planning. But things changed by 2010.

“I had moved from Boulder to Colorado Springs,” she remembers. “Life was calmer. I didn’t have much on my plate.”

Then the newlyweds went to New York for the one-year reunion of the survivors. The flight home wasn’t easy. “When we had taken that plane out, we’d been so busy,” she says. “I think that triggered something. And I had time to express, to feel.” Between that plane ride and her newfound time for reflection, the year-old trauma finally found its way to the surface.

Karin’s thoughts began to take a dark turn. Her anxiety manifested in a variety of ways. The one she mentions in our conversation is the “what-if” or “survivor” game, in which she would play through deadly situations, how she might die, and what she’d do if she survived those, too. As she describes in the book,

Without even trying, my mind would wander to thoughts of how I might die and I would play through what I would do if each of them happened to me. … I thought that if I could mentally go through every death scenario and think about how I would respond, I would somehow keep the worst from occurring. And then if it did, at least I would be prepared because I had already imagined it.

The anxiety and death-centered thoughts continued in a cycle.

Three Years of Writing

Karin’s dark thoughts were coming to a head around the time she met Jessie Santala at a wedding in April 2010. In fact, the interviewing and writing process took place while she was still processes the trauma and seeking help. Thus, Karin says, “many of the experiences and revelations in the book were “truly paralleling alongside us writing.” Also because of this, the book’s purpose unfolded as they wrote.

Jessie Santala, coauthor of Sink or Swim

Jessie Santala, Karin’s coauthor, whom Karin describes as the “driving force for what we needed.” Her skills and writing knowledge helped bring Karin’s story to life.

When Karin first thought of writing a book, she didn’t expect to write about her mental health. “I thought I was going to write this book about God, and how I’m perfect, unscathed… When I first met [Jessie], I didn’t even think I had PTSD.” Karin did know that she had a story to share—people were, after all, interested in what the passengers experienced, in their words instead of only what the newspapers said. She knew she could write about faith, about how God had protected them—and certainly about how the crash affected her relationship with Chris.

But PTSD? Healing? That wasn’t part of her initial plan for the book or the next few years of her life. “Maybe I had some of those thoughts,” she says, “but I don’t think the magnitude came until that summer.”

The initial writing process took about three years, starting in 2010, as both Karin and Jessie had to fit their book-related activity around the rest of their lives. Sink or Swim wasn’t published until December 2017. But Karin believes that the timing was, in fact, just as God directed it. That includes the timing of the writing alongside her healing journey.

“In all honesty, if I wrote this today, this is not the story that I would have written. But it is the story that is most raw.” And, she believes, because it is raw, it might be just what other struggling people can most relate to and find encouragement in.

Years of Waiting

After they wrapped up writing, Karin says, “We weren’t sure what to do.” Jessie’s skill and research about writing and publishing had helped a lot, but there were still questions. And Karin knew people at Moody, Tyndale, and David C. Cook, but “they weren’t interested.”

Still, they didn’t let this discourage them any more than the delays during writing. “We have always believed that this is God’s work,” Karin emphasizes. “We were okay with the journey. … Once the book was complete, we were just waiting; do we go to Amazon, self-publish…?”

They decided to put their proposal on the Christian Manuscript Submissions website. Sure enough, God’s timing was perfect. Deep River Books contacted Karin and Jessie in 2016, a few months before the movie Sully came out. “Maybe it was the hype of it,” Karin speculates. “It just really resurfaced in a great way. The movie was amazing; it re-sparked the interest in the story. It was a God thing.”

The timing was right for Karin personally, too: “I am more whole and healthy in regard to the crash and what happened.” Had this book released five years ago, she might not have been in such a position to talk about the crash and its surrounding events. Now, she can approach media events, launch parties, and interviews with confidence.

God’s Story, God’s Timing

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

Every step of the way, Karin has found peace in giving Sink or Swim to God. She keeps in mind that this is his story. “In a physical sense, I have rested in letting God do the work,” she says. Yes, she was—and still is—faithful to do her part, but she knows that, in the end, this book’s success isn’t up to her and Jessie.

Now, Karin has received attention from media outlets not just across the country, but all the way in Europe. Talk Radio Europe, Spain’s largest English-speaking radio program, reached out in November, a month before Sink or Swim‘s release date, to book Karin for a live radio interview in early January. 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 earlier this week.

All of this media activity is beyond what Karin herself dreamed, let alone planned. It is, indeed, God’s work for God’s story in God’s timing.

Want to connect with Karin and her still-unfolding story? Check out the links below: