What Runs Through Your Mind As Your Plane Is Crashing?

Oct 25, 2013
Originally published on June 27, 2014 6:11 am

Part 2 of the TED Radio Hour episode Turning Points.

About Ric Elias' TEDTalk

In January 2009, businessman Ric Elias had a front-row seat on Flight 1549, the plane that crash-landed in the Hudson River in New York. On the TED stage, Elias tells his story for the first time, including how the crash changed his approach to life, love and family.

About Ric Elias

Businessman Ric Elias was born in Puerto Rico and came to the United States to attend college. He is now the CEO and co-founder of Red Ventures, a firm that helps companies find new customers online.

In January 2009, his life changed when he found himself on Flight 1549, the plane that crash-landed in the Hudson River.

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It's the TED Radio Hour from NPR. I'm Guy Raz. And on the show today, turning points. Imagine living two totally different lives over the course of one single lifespan - a life before, and a life after. Well, for Ric Elias, the turning point happened in a flash. It was January 15th, 2009. He was on U.S. Airways flight 1549 and the plane was headed right into the Hudson River. Here's his TED talk.


RIC ELIAS: Imagine a big explosion as you climb through 3,000 feet. Imagine a plane full of smoke. Imagine an engine going clack, clack, clack, clack, clack, clack, clack. Well, I had a unique seat that day. I was sitting in 1D. I was the only one who could talk to the flight attendants. So I looked at them right away and they said no problem. We probably hit some birds. The pilot had already turned the plane around and we weren't that far. You could see Manhattan. Two minutes later, three things happened at the same time. The pilot lines up the plane with the Hudson River. That's usually not the route.


ELIAS: He turns off the engines. Now imagine being on a plane with no sound. And then, he says three words - as unemotional three words as I have ever heard. He says, brace for impact. I didn't have to talk to the flight attendant anymore.


ELIAS: I could see, in her eyes, that it was terror. Life was over. Now I want to share with you three things I learned about myself that day. I learned that it all changes in an instant. We have this bucket list, we have these things we want to do in life. And I thought about all the people I wanted to reach out that I didn't, all the fences I wanted to mend, all the experiences I wanted to have and I never did. As I thought about that, later on I came up with a saying, which is, I collect bad wines. 'Cause if the wine is ready and the person is there, I'm opening it. I no longer want to postpone anything in life. And that urgency, that purpose has really changed my life. The second thing I learned that day, and this is as we cleared the George Washington Bridge, which was by not a lot - I thought about, wow, I really feel one real regret. I've lived a good life.

In my own humanity and mistakes, I've tried to get better at everything I have tried. But in my humanity, I also allow my ego to get in. And I regretted the time I wasted and things that did not matter with people that matter. And I thought about my relationship with my wife, with my friends, with people. And after, as I reflected on that, I decided to eliminate negative energy from my life. It's not perfect, it's a lot better. I've not had a fight with my wife in two years and it feels great. I no longer try to be right. I choose to be happy. The third thing I learned - and this is as your mental clock starts going 15, 14, 13, you can see the water coming, I'm saying please blow up.

All right, I don't want this thing to break in 20 pieces like you've seen in those documentaries. And as we're coming down, I had a sense of, wow, dying is not scary. It's almost like we've been preparing for it our whole lives. But it was very sad. I didn't want to go. I love my life. And that sadness really framed in one thought, which is I only wish for one thing. I only wish I could see my kids grow up. About a month later, I was in a performance by my daughter, first grader. Not much artistic talent...


ELIAS: ...Yet. And I'm bawling. I'm crying like a little kid. And it made all the sense in the world to me. I realized, at that point, by connecting those two dots that the only thing that matters in my life is being a great dad. Above all, above all, the only goal I have in life is to be a good dad. I was given the gift of a miracle of not dying that day. I was given another gift, which was to be able to see into the future and come back and live differently.

I challenge you guys that are flying today, imagine the same thing happens on your plane - and please don't, but imagine, and how would you change? What would you get done that you're waiting to get done because you think you'll be here for forever? How would you change your relationships and the negative energy in them, and more than anything, are you being the best parent you can? Thank you.


RAZ: Ric Elias. More than three and a half million people have watched his TED Talk. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.