David Sanderson spoke to Jefferson County Red Cross supporters Tuesday during the second annual Heroes Campaign luncheon and fundraising kickoff at the Livery Stable. Sanderson was one of the passengers to survive the Miracle on the Hudson flight in 2009 when a plane, flown by Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, was ditched into the Hudson River. (Staff photo by Steve Dickerson/sdickerson@madisoncourier.com)
David Sanderson spoke to Jefferson County Red Cross supporters Tuesday during the second annual Heroes Campaign luncheon and fundraising kickoff at the Livery Stable. Sanderson was one of the passengers to survive the Miracle on the Hudson flight in 2009 when a plane, flown by Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, was ditched into the Hudson River. (Staff photo by Steve Dickerson/sdickerson@madisoncourier.com)
One of the more iconic photos from the Miracle on the Hudson plane crash shows a group of surviving passengers huddled together on the wing of the near-sunken airliner.

The image was captured shortly after Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger successfully ditched the plane into the Hudson River, managing to spare the lives of all 155 passengers and crew members onboard.

David Sanderson was one of those passengers who braved the 36-degree water and an outdoor temperature of 11 degrees before finding his way to safety. But before rescue crews arrived, Sanderson took his own flight path and began assisting fellow passengers to the plane's exit while putting himself in serious risk by wading in waist-deep frigid water for several minutes.

Sanderson spoke to Jefferson County Red Cross supporters during the second annual Heroes Campaign luncheon and fundraising kickoff event at the Livery Stable on Tuesday.

The local Red Cross board has set this year's fundraising goal at $35,000. Key sponsors already have contributed more than $16,000.

Nancy Jacobs, a board member of the local Red Cross, said Sanderson is a person who reacted under "extraordinary circumstances."

"When others in that position might have asked, 'Why me?' Dave Sanderson knew that he was exactly where he was suppose to be," she said.

A former sales manager, Sanderson now tours the country to speak for the American Red Cross. Madison was his 91st speaking engagement for the organization, though he has made hundreds of appearances since the incident.

He focused on two key elements: The power of faith and the power of the American Red Cross.

Sanderson said the trouble began quickly after U.S. Airways Flight 1549 lifted off from LaGuardia Airport on Jan. 15, 2009. He heard a loud boom and saw a fire on his side of the plane. Little did he know the plane had struck a flock of geese and was losing engine power rapidly.

Sanderson ran through the powerful sequence of events that led to more than 150 people being saved that day, adding that he is "living proof that miracles do happen."

He noted the elaborate skills and expertise that went into the rescue, from the pilot's knowledge of gliding - the action that safely landed the plane in the Hudson River - to the ferry rescue workers.

Sanderson was able to assist others, swim to a rescue vessel and survive hypothermic conditions.

All this happened after Sanderson changed his flight just hours before the incident.

"I truly believe I was supposed to be on that plane," he said.

When the plane hit the water, people swarmed the exit, but Sanderson stayed in the back and helped people to the wing - which is where rescue boats began pulling them to safety. The frigid water rose to his waist.

One of the first pictures of the crash released on "Good Morning America" was of Sanderson trying to get out of the plane while several others stood on the plane's wing. He eventually had to swim to the rescue boat and was hoisted up by two men who, to this day, he hasn't identified.

"When we hit the shore, there were three people waiting for me: Two and a guy from the American Red Cross holding this blanket," he said while holding up a Red Cross blanket. "That's why I speak now nationally on behalf of the Red Cross."

The EMT and the Red Cross worker picked up Sanderson and took off his wet clothes. It took five hours for his core body temperature to return to normal levels.

After his recovery, he later found that a Red Cross worker had helped his family by making sure they could greet him upon his return to Charlotte, S.C. Sanderson said because of his overnight celebrity, organizations and the public were eager to help him. But the Red Cross also was there to help his family, he said.

He highlighted those experiences with the Red Cross as reasons to contribute to the organization, whether that be financially, giving blood or donating time.

"I never thought that I'd needed the Red Cross. But within a 14-, 15-hour period, I had three Red Cross experiences," he said. "The most important was the last one with my family."

Since the crash, Sanderson has ended his career as a sales manager and began a career with the Red Cross. Earlier this year - on the fifth anniversary of the crash - the Red Cross reported that Sanderson has helped raise more than $7 million for relief efforts.