published Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

Red Cross honors Hometown Heroes

Paula Burgess, left, pins a ribbon on her husband, David Burgess, Tuesday at the American Red Cross Hometown Heroes luncheon at the Chattanooga Convention Center. Burgess was one of three Collegedale police officers that were honored by the Red Cross for their service after last year's tornadoes.
Paula Burgess, left, pins a ribbon on her husband, David Burgess, Tuesday at the American Red Cross Hometown Heroes luncheon at the Chattanooga Convention Center. Burgess was one of three Collegedale police officers that were honored by the Red Cross for their service after last year's tornadoes.
Photo by Angela Lewis.

HOMETOWN HEROES HONOREES

Good Samaritan -- Youth: Conner Kapperman

Good Samaritan -- Adult: Doug Walter and JoJo Macatiag of Open House

First Responders: Dave Burgess, Perry Collins, Joe Greenleaf of the Collegedale Police Department

Red Cross Disaster Volunteer: Trish Horner

Red Cross Hospital Volunteer: Laura Gracy

Source: Red Cross

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As the plane started sinking into the frigid waters of the Hudson River, Dave Sanderson remembered advice his mother had given him.

"If you do the right thing, God will take care of you."

Those words made Sanderson decide to stay and help other passengers escape from the sinking US Airways plane that crash landed just off Manhattan during 2009's famous "Miracle on the Hudson."

Sanderson shared his mother's advice Tuesday with a crowd of about 500 at the Chattanooga Red Cross' annual Hometown Heroes fundraising luncheon, which honors local people whose dedication and bravery helped victims of disasters.

In front of an audience that included firefighters, law enforcement and Red Cross volunteers, employees and patrons, Sanderson and flight co-pilot Jeff Skiles told the story of the crash of Flight 1549, of "the thud of geese ricocheting off the fuselage," of passengers tucking notes and IDs down their pants in the hope of their bodies being identified, of the silence in the sinking cabin, of clothes freezing to their skin in the frigid Hudson water, of the survival of all 155 people on the plane.

The whole incident -- takeoff, engine failure after geese flew into the turbines, turn-about, emergency glide, crash landing -- took about 5 1/2 minutes. The last passenger off the plane reached the shore of New Jersey 20 minutes after takeoff, freezing and soaked. The Red Cross already was waiting for him, warm blankets in hand.

Sanderson and Skiles said their survival was due in large part to the efforts of volunteers, and the pair reminded the audience of the vital support that groups such as the Red Cross give to disaster survivors.

"The Red Cross goes to people suffering and gives hope," Sanderson said.

"We need to support these many volunteers," Skiles added.

The event honored several locals that the Red Cross said distinguished themselves during disasters, especially after the April 27 tornadoes last year.

Collegedale police officers Perry Collins and Joe Greenleaf were honored as the first responders to show up in Apison after tornadoes decimated the area.

"This is what we had," said Greenleaf, gesturing to his police uniform.

Despite reports of new tornadoes headed toward them, the officers used their hands to dig victims out of the rubble. They also guided the efforts of officers and volunteers who arrived later, working well into the night. Eventually, their chief had to tell them to go home. Only then, Collins said, did he realize how exhausted he had become.

Youth Good Samaritan winner Conner Kapperman had another story of adrenaline and superhuman effort. After the Apison tornadoes, the high schooler's family received a distressed call from neighbors. Next door, a safe weighing more than 1,000 pounds had fallen on two of his neighbors, but Kapperman and his father were able to heave it off.

"It felt like nothing. It was the strangest feeling," he said.

After freeing his neighbors, Kapperman helped EMTs improvise stretchers out of door frames and mattresses.

Other honorees included a volunteer at Parkridge Medical Center, a disaster responder who specializes in mental health and the organizers of a group that helps tornado survivors rebuild their houses.

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