Patrick Harten: An Air Traffic Controller Takes to the Streets


For Patrick Harten, January 15, 2009 was no ordinary day at the office. An air traffic controller at New York’s Terminal Radar Approach Control facility in Westbury, NY, Harten guided US Airways Flight 1549 to its emergency landing in the Hudson River. The “Miracle on the Hudson,” which has been called the most successful ditching in aviation history, ended with the rescue of all 155 people aboard.

Harten received Capt. Chesley Sullenberger’s mayday radio call shortly after takeoff, informing him that the plane had collided with a flock of birds, shutting down both engines, and was returning to LaGuardia Airport. Harten cleared the emergency procedure, only to learn moments later that Sullenberger was unable to execute the return to LaGuardia, as the plane was rapidly losing altitude.

He and other controllers then granted Sullenberger permission to land at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, but Sullenberger responded that the plane was preparing to land in the Hudson. Harten said later that he believed at the time that he would be the last person ever to speak to Sullenberger or anyone on the plane.

Desire to Run New York City

Despite the miraculous outcome, the experience traumatized Harten. As he told a Congressional panel in Washington, “Even when I learned the truth, I could not escape the image of tragedy in my mind.” He took 45 days of paid leave to gain perspective.

Harten had run the Boston Marathon in 2008, and he ran again in 2009, three months after the flight, wearing bib 1549 and finishing in 2:47. But he’s never run the TCS New York City Marathon—until this year.

“I have always wanted to run the New York City Marathon ever since I saw my father run it in 1985,” said Harten, 44. He was signed up to run in 2010, but tore his hamstring a week before the race and had to withdraw. His running had been sporadic for most of the past eight years, but he was inspired by watching his sister-in-law run last year.

“It got me thinking about how badly I wanted to run New York. It’s never too late. I may not be as fast as I used to be, but I can still finish,” he said. “As the 10-year anniversary of Flight 1549 approaches, “I feel this is the perfect time to finally run New York.”

Gary McLaughlin