Boston bib 1549: Controller from Hudson splashdown

BOSTON (AP) " The No. 1549 Patrick Harten will wear on his chest for the Boston Marathon is no ordinary bib assignment: Race organizers gave it to the New York air traffic controller to honor his role in the dramatic safe landing of US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River.

"For me, it was more of a sentimental value," Harten said last week in a telephone interview during a break from work at the Westbury, N.Y., radar facility. "For me it's a way to acknowledge my role in the miraculous events of that day. And being able to do that participating in an event that I love is a beautiful thing."

Harten was part of a crew of 50 managing the air space over the three major New York City-area airports and several smaller ones on Jan. 15 when Flight 1549 hit a flock of geese while taking off from LaGuardia. Harten tried in vain to find a runway the plane could reach before pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger was forced to land in the river; all 155 people aboard the plane survived.

Harten, who has been a controller for 10 years, had been involved in other emergencies but always managed to get the plane on the runway. What he calls "the Cactus event" " "Cactus" is the air traffic call name for US Airways " was "a reminder that what you do is very, very important."

It also gave him an idea.

"That got me thinking," he wrote Boston Marathon organizers last month. "It would be very neat if I ran with the number 1549."

Bib numbers help identify runners to fans and family along the 26.2-mile course from Hopkinton to Boston " about the distance from LaGuardia to Teterboro Airport and back. The defending Boston champion gets No. 1 and the top contenders fill out the first 100 or so; the rest of the more than 26,000 runners are assigned numbers in order of their qualifying times.

Harten ran Boston in 2 hours, 58 minutes, 58 seconds last year, a time that he estimated would earn him a bib number in the low four digits.

He asked if he could have No. 1549 instead.

Race organizers don't generally allow runners to pick their bib numbers for fear of opening the door to every hoofer with a lucky number or favorite date. Exceptions are made rarely, such as when two-time winner Johnny Kelley was given the numbers corresponding to his record 58th, 59th, 60th and 61st time competing in the race.

The No. 13 was once given to 1984 Olympic silver medalist John Treacy " a late addition who didn't mind the unlucky omens that had led organizers to skip it when originally assigning bibs to contenders. Past champions will sometimes be given numbers corresponding to the year of their victories.

Harten's request was granted.

"He was part of a life-changing event, what turned out to be a very positive story," Boston Athletic Association executive director Guy Morse said. "He was obviously looking forward to running anyway. We just thought this would be an extra motivating factor to help him have a great day."

Harten, 35, took up running three years ago and completed two other marathons before posting a personal best in Boston last year; he's also run the 26.2-mile distance as part of two triathlons. He's found that running helps relieve the stress of a job that requires constant and total concentration because, as he was reminded in January, life-and-death crises can arise without warning.

"And it's a healthy way of doing it, too," said Harten, who last month adopted a 20-month-old boy from Russia who enjoys his rides in the running stroller. "I found that through the training and the racing my stress levels have definitely gone down a lot. It definitely works for me. Overall, I found I'm happier."

Harten testified before Congress in February, telling the House aviation subcommittee that when Sullenberger told him he was "going to be in the Hudson," he thought the pilot had pronounced his own death sentence.

"When he first said it, my mind couldn't absorb the statement that he made," he said last week. "I thought that was going to be it for him. I thought I was going to be the last one to talk to anyone on that plane alive."

Hundreds of thousands of fans line the Boston Marathon course each year " more than a few named "Sully," no doubt " cheering for their friends and families but also for every other struggling runner who limps by. Morse said the support will certainly grow if the crowds recognize bib No. 1549.

But Harten says the fans offer great support to every competitor.

"I could tell you from running Boston last year, the crowds are unbelievable, and they're going to cheer for you no matter what," he said. "With the cheering, I don't think I could have slowed down if I wanted to."

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