By Sarah Lang/The Lebanon Reporter
It was the last thing he expected, but the first thing he was hoping for during his internship with the Fire Department of New York.
Not that he was hoping for people to be hurt. It’s his personal policy that people are going to get hurt. He just wants to be there to help.
So when US Airways Flight 1549 crashed into the Hudson River Thursday, Matthew Nance was glad he was there to lend a hand.
DePauw University junior Nance, of Lebanon, was in New York getting class credit for an internship with Dr. John Freese, the medical director for FDNY, when Freese received a page.
“He read it, looked up and said, ‘Wanna go on something interesting?’” Nance said.
Nance went along, not really knowing what was going on. Until he saw the plane in the water, that is.
“Behind us was the FBI, and that was kind of crazy,” Nance said. “There were divers in the water. The fire department was there, and the police department. Boats were everywhere. But everyone knew their position, their job and who to report to.
“There was a fluidity there. You could tell it had been practiced and was playing out as it should.”
Nance and Freese went through all the necessary blockades and boarded a small boat with about 20 patients to treat.
At first it was excitement. There was so much going on, and Nance was thrilled to be part of something so great.
Then humility set in as he noticed boats just like his all around, with scores more patients. The situation was much bigger than he thought.
The nerves started in as Nance learned that not all the people on board had been accounted for yet.
And, once they were, finally a sense of calm set in. Everyone could feel it, he said.
“It was a very neat process, to say the least,” Nance said. “We were there as the communication developed. I got to see it all come together.”
Nance, who took an EMT course two years ago, chose to take this internship during his one-month winter term. Though he is an English literature major, he said he still might end up in emergency management.
In his hometown of Lebanon or where he goes to school in Greencastle, Nance said, “if a school bus with six kids on it crashes, it’s a big deal. But that happens every day here. I wanted something big and exciting to happen. And I’m glad it did. And I’m glad everyone was okay.”
Nance was able to follow Freese around as he spoke with and treated patients. Most had water- or weather-related injuries. Nance helped each of those patients off the boat and then to a hospital — or back to LaGuardia Airport, where some had parked their cars.
“It was mind-blowing. I had a lot of fun,” Nance said, “but I’m sure I’d feel much different if there was a death toll.”
The pilot, Chelsey B. “Sully” Sullenberger III, was the real hero on Thursday, Nance said. But he’s thankful he could be a part of the process. It’s something that he won’t soon forget.
“Next time I see or hear something like this on the news, it will be very tangible to me,” Nance said. “I’ll have that insider’s perspective.”
Nance is a 2006 graduate of Lebanon High School. His dad and step-mom, Rob and Kendra Nance, and mom and step-dad, David and Andrea Batts, live in Lebanon. And so does his brother, Michael, who is a probation officer in town.
“We’re just proud of him,” Michael said. “He’s flying home Wednesday. We’re very excited.”