CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Near-death experiences are often life-changing for people. Maryann Bruce would know — she’s survived seven of them.
Maryann has lived through a lot in her 59 years. Maryann and her family have lived in Cornelius since 1999, but her ‘adventures’ have been all across the country.
“I never wanted to let fear interfere with living,” Maryann said.
All the times when she could’ve died in the past -- seven, to be exact -- she believes it must not have been her time.
But she doesn’t see it as a bad case of luck. She has a strong sense of humor about it all.
“How many people do you know that have survived a plane crash? A bombing? Or a terrorist attack?” Maryann said. “I jokingly tell my friends you want to be with me because you'll have an adventure — and you’ll live to tell about it.”
It all started in 1984, she was expecting a relaxing vacation.
The 'Diva of Disaster' has survived seven near-death experiences across the country
In 1984, Maryann and her husband were vacationing in Hawaii. They were sitting by the pool, enjoying the day. All of a sudden, they realized everyone had cleared out -- they were alone out there.
They could tell something was wrong, so they went into the hotel lobby and asked why everyone had left. A tsunami siren had sounded and everyone needed to evacuate.
All the guests in the hotel had been evacuated to higher ground, and they found shelter in a Mormon temple.
When the weather hit them, the tsunami wasn’t as bad as they thought it would be. But that was just the beginning.
En route to New York City, 1985
One year later, Maryann’s father had a heart attack. He was in intensive care while he recovered.
Maryann was on the plane on the way to see him when, unbeknownst to her at the time, they flew into the eye of Hurricane Gloria.
When they landed, it was undeniable.
Everywhere she looked, there was devastation and trees down.
Thankfully, she was able to make it to the hospital eventually and see her dad. He made a full recovery.
Breckenridge, Colorado, 1987
Two years later, she found herself in the midst of disaster again.
Like with the tsunami, Maryann was enjoying a trip with her husband. The two were skiing in Colorado.
They had been skiing down a slope and once they finished, came in for lunch.
People were scrambling, trying to make sure everyone was accounted for and okay. There had been an avalanche.
Maryann and her husband were shocked. They didn’t hear about anything, they didn’t see anything, they had absolutely no idea there was an avalanche.
So they asked where it happened.
Just minutes after they had left their slope and finished their run, the avalanche came where they had been.
But while this was shocking, nothing could have prepared Maryann what came next. She said it was the first disaster that really scared her.
New York City, 1993
The World Trade Center Bombing
In 1993, she was working in the World Trade Center in a position of authority. She cites having that authority with how she made it through the World Trade Center Bombing.
“I didn’t really have time to be afraid,” she said. She had to take care of everyone else.
She heard a loud, terrible sound. Nobody in the building that she was able to contact knew what was going on.
Since nobody knew what had happened they went about work as usual.
Not long after work resumed, Maryann left to go to the bathroom. It was then that she realized there was smoke … and a lot of it.
They knew not long after that it was time to evacuate, even though they didn’t know why. They didn’t know there was a terrorist attack and they had no knowledge about a truck bomb. They just knew they had to go.
“We had no idea what was going on,” Maryann said. “We knew we just had to evacuate.”
They thought the building might have been on fire, but they weren’t sure.
Maryann said she had an employee that had recently been in a skiing accident and was in a body cast from the waist down. She was worried about how they would get her down all the flights of stairs, knowing they shouldn’t take the elevator.
She pulled four young, tall guys and asked them for help.
The stairs were pitch black.
Maryann remembers counting the stairs each flight. Thirteen steps this flight, 12 steps the next flight, 13 steps again. They walked down 34 flights. She says she’s grateful they weren’t higher up.
Once down, she saw someone with stuff all over their face. She asked them what it was. They felt their face, having no idea ash was covering it all. Maryann found out her face, too, was covered in it.
They still had no idea what had happened.
Maryann went home. It wasn’t until she got home and her husband ran over to hug and kiss her that she realized what had happened.
He was crying. There as a terrorist attack, he told her.
Los Angeles, 1994
The Northridge earthquake
The very next year, Maryann was flying to see a client in Los Angeles.
While she was in the air, an earthquake occurred in Northridge, Los Angeles. She had no idea about the initial event.
Once she landed, she tried to hail a cab. She was able to get one, but it didn’t last long. As they were driving, there were multiple aftershocks.
After the second one, the cab driver was concerned. He said he wouldn’t take her where she needed to go, but they could go somewhere else.
They went back to the airport. She tried and failed to get another plane out of Los Angeles. So she found herself in a hotel for the night.
She remembers aftershocks throughout the night. Things were shaking, pictures were falling.
While this was her second experience with disaster on a plane, it was by no means her last.
En route to Boston, 2001
In 2001, she was in the last plane out of Charlotte on the way to Boston.
While they were flying, the passengers were told that all the planes were diverted, there was an air traffic control stop.
The pilot said there was an emergency at the World Trade Center.
While not everyone jumped to conclusions at what that meant, Maryann knew in that moment what had happened.
She started crying. Her colleague next to her asked what was wrong.
“Oh my God,” she remembers telling her colleague. “That’s not an accident.”
When they did land in Boston, they were escorted out by the National Guard. As they were leaving the airport, there were TVs by a bar nearby. She watched the towers crumble.
The Hudson River, 2009
The Miracle on the Hudson
What really sparked a change in Maryann’s life was the most recent ‘adventure’ she’s survived -- the Miracle on the Hudson.
Maryann was in seat 5D.
She said sometimes she’s upgraded to first class, but she never sits at the bulkhead. This time around, she was one row behind it.
When she shares her story of the Miracle on the Hudson, she likes to remind people that there were 155 people on the plane -- five crew members and 150 passengers. If you speak to 150 people, she says, you’ll get 150 stories.
“I firmly believe that those stories are based on two things. Number one: your perspective, and what happened to your life prior to that plane, and number two: where you sat on the plane.”
Maryann said she noticed the closer a passenger was to the back of the plane, the more frightening it was. You could see the wings on fire, you could see that it almost hit a bridge, you could see the crash was coming.
Maryann herself was not frightened -- at least, not at first.
She was reading a newspaper and thought they were just making an emergency landing at LaGuardia. She remembers even talking with a pilot who was sitting near her, he thought the same thing.
The plane wasn’t nosediving, she said, so it was hard to fathom there was an issue.
Even when she saw the water, she wasn’t scared. She assumed that meant they were near the runway. It was only when they crashed that she realized what had happened.
Because of where she was seated, she was able to evacuate and make it onto a raft. Maryann remembers watching people, in shock, as they jumped out and climbed onto the wings. She was afraid the plane would sink.
“It was a miracle,” she said.
She believes it had to have been God that saved them all that day. No lives were lost, though multiple passengers were injured.
“So many things could have gone wrong that day, and they went right,” Maryann said. “People focus on what could’ve gone wrong, I focus on what went right.”
It was freezing and snowing earlier that day, she said. When they crashed, it was sunny out. There could have been a ton of ice, but there wasn’t. It was before rush hour, so there wasn’t traffic from ferries. First responders could have taken longer to get there, but they were quick. Maryann sees heaps of positives from that day.
“If we didn’t have Sully, I’m convinced we wouldn’t have had as positive an outcome,” Maryann said.
She said looking back at that day, and all the things that ‘went right,’ the Miracle on the Hudson renewed her faith in the kindness of man. Everyone helped each other out, without questioning if they got along.
“It really renewed my faith in humanity,” Maryann said.
Many of the passengers lost their luggage and belongings in the event. She was almost one of them. She had a cherished ring from her husband that she had taken off before the flight -- she put it in a jewelry pouch in her suitcase above her. The next day, after getting medical treatment and before heading home, she made her way to a gate agent who then led her to the manager of La Guardia.
She had made a list before returning to the airport of all the things that were in her suitcase, including the ring, in case of an insurance claim. She made it clear she believed they could retrieve it since she knew exactly where it was on the plane that did not sink. She got it back.
'Passion, purpose, and perspective'
Life after the Hudson
Some people say she’s unlucky, she was even born on April Fools Day. She’s been called the Diva of Disaster and the lady with seven lives -- leading some to ask, is there going to be another disaster?
“I don’t know when the next one’s going to be or if there’s going to be one,” Maryann said. “But I do know that I’ve been living my life now with passion, purpose, and perspective and hopefully I’ll have a positive outcome. But if I didn’t, I at least can say that the Miracle on the Hudson made me re-prioritize and that I’m happy with the prioritization that I did.”
Since that flight, she’s spent more time with her two kids, her parents, the wife of her brother who passed away. She’s put an emphasis on her loved ones.
So despite it all, she considers herself lucky.
“I’ve survived all these things,” she said. “Now someone else might say unlucky ‘cause I had to go through them, but you know, life’s full of mysteries and it’s a journey.”
The careful reader might note that four of these incidents have been on planes. But she’s not scared of flying -- she loves it. And for good reason.
Decades ago, she met her husband on a plane. They weren’t even sitting together. They started talking when she needed to move his coat in the overhead bin, and they talked through the whole flight. Three months later, they were engaged. They’ve been married 36 years.
“So when people say to me, how do you get on a plane, how do you travel? I focus on the positive things,” she said.
She talks about life before the crash on the Hudson River and after it. Even through the first six ‘crazy adventures,’ as she calls them, she said she was the typical female executive. She lived life following purpose and passion, what she called the Two Ps.
“It wasn’t until I was sitting in a raft in the middle of the Hudson River that I realized I was missing a third and the most important ‘P,’” she said. “That was perspective.”