A Beaver County flight attendant who was swept into the spotlight last year after US Airways Flight 1549 crash landed in the Hudson River retired last month, leaving behind four decades of flying.
“I’ve known for a while that I couldn’t go back,” said Doreen Welsh, 59, of Ambridge. Instead, she will pursue a career in public speaking.
Ms. Welsh officially retired about a month ago. US Airways announced her retirement Wednesday along with that of Flight 1549 Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who navigated the plane into the Hudson River in January 2009 after birds struck both engines. All 155 of the plane’s occupants survived, though Ms. Welsh and a handful of others were injured.
Ms. Welsh said she struggled for many months with the idea of returning to the skies.
“Physically, I’m fine,” she said. “I’m getting better. It’s just a memory that’s going to be with me forever.”
Mr. Sullenberger flew his last flight Wednesday afternoon, ending his 30-year career when he landed at his home base in Charlotte, N.C.
He said he plans to spend more time with his family in retirement and will write another book. He will also continue to talk to lawmakers about raising minimum qualifications for pilots and work to lower the maximum number of hours pilots are able to work in a single day.
Mr. Sullenberger said it’s more difficult to be a pilot today than 30 years ago.
“There is so much pressure to hire people with less experience. Their salaries are so low that people with greater experience will not take those jobs. We have some carriers that have hired some pilots with only a few hundred hours of experience. … There’s simply no substitute for experience in terms of aviation safety,” he said.
Ms. Welsh emerged from the crash with a large, L-shaped gash on her leg. She spent three days in a New York hospital and was soon ushered into a whirlwind of engagements and appearances.
Since then, she has testified before Congress, appeared on the “Late Show with David Letterman” and “60 Minutes” with Katie Couric, spoken to thousands of people and been presented with the official key to New York City.
“It’s amazing how busy I’ve been,” she said.
But she has also been on leave from her job, later receiving workers’ compensation. She said she has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
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“I feel grateful for still being alive,” she said, but added that her burst of opportunities came at a “high price.”
“And if I could go back, I would have rather just been flying and doing my job and not having gone through that, because I have to live with that for the rest of my life,” she said.
Ms. Welsh spent nearly four decades as a flight attendant. She joined a US Airways predecessor when she was 19, looking for a summer job. She said she thought it would be fun to work at the airport.
“I was a baby,” she said. “It was the only job I’ve ever had.” She loved traveling, though, and delighted in the chance to keep meeting new people.
“I could pick and choose where I wanted to go,” she said, listing San Francisco, Boston and Las Vegas as a few of her favorite destinations.
“Depending on the mood. I would go through different phases,” she said.
While Ms. Welsh has little public speaking experience, she said she is ready to share her story.
She already has an agent, Jeff Tobe, the president of Infinite Speakers Agency.
“She’ll be great,” said Mr. Tobe. “She’s not a professional speaker, but she has an incredible story. … It’s touching. It’s funny. It’s everything.”
Ms. Welsh said she has relied on support from her 26-year-old son Timothy, who recently moved to New Orleans for graduate school. He has been behind her retirement from the beginning.
“He got to the hospital when I came out of surgery. He was right there,” she said. “He leaned down and whispered in my ear, ‘You’re done.’ ”
“It’s been a great ride,” said Ms. Welsh. “Now I have to try something new.”