Stephen Nessen, Reporter, WNYC News
Stephen Nessen reports for the WNYC Newsroom and can often be heard live on Morning Edition.
There were six Americans aboard a plane that crashed in Myanmar on Christmas Day, including two New Yorkers. All of them survived, but three are seeking medical care from injuries, according to a State Department spokesman. They include Susanna Weiss and her husband Allan Lokos, founders of the Community Meditation Center on the Upper West side. Both sustained major injuries after the plane made a crash landing.
Weiss suffered a broken vertebrae and Lokos was severely burned in the crash. They are in Singapore receiving treatment now.
Weiss has been released, but Lokos remains in the ICU.
There were 71 people aboard the plane, and two died, according to a State Department Spokesman. Flight 001 on Air Bagan left Mandalay and made an emergency landing near Heho Airport. Other reports note that three people from Myanmar died in the crash, including a man on a motorcycle hit by the plane.
Weiss remembers as the plane began to land, nothing seemed wrong. But then, the plane hit the ground unexpectedly hard. “We held onto the seats in front and it was like a rough landing in a field,” Weiss told WNYC, speaking from the hospital in Singapore.
Weiss and her husband were sitting near the back of the plane. She said the cabin filled with black smoke and fire. They tried to head to the front, but the smoke was too heavy.
“Alan took me back to the exit wing and he pushed me out he said, ‘Jump. Leap far through the fire.’ And I did. I landed on the ground. And he was caught inside, and I was out there for what seemed like forever,” Weiss said.
She said Lokos finally appeared in the doorway and jumped to the ground. Then, the plane began to pop and explode. “So I said get up Alan, you have to get up and run. And he did, he got up, and I held him up and we got away from the plane.”
After a grueling 30 minute ride in the back of a flatbed truck used for an ambulance, they arrived at a small local hospital. There, two employees of the U.S. Consulate who’d heard about the crash found them and helped evacuate them to a larger facility in Bangkok.
Weiss had suffered a broken vertebra and received treatment. But there was no burn unit there that could treat Lokos’ severe burns on his hands, legs and head. After three days they were air lifted to Singapore General Hospital.
Friends of the family learned of the crash Wednesday night in an email sent to members of the Community Meditation Center, which Lokos helped found and is where he is the guiding teacher. “Through the kindness and generosity of the meditation and dharma community, we will continue to meet weekly to further our practice and, more importantly, gather as a group to pray for and send metta to Allan and Susanna in their arduous task of recovery,” it read.
Weiss and Lokos decided to open the Community Meditation Center after 9/11, “creating a place where people of all religions, spiritual practices, and faith traditions could come together and explore their spiritual selves, both individually and collectively,” according to its website.
Both are ardent followers of Theravada Buddhism, which is widely practiced in Myanmar, also known as Burma.
Lokos studied with Thich Nhat Hanh and is the author of two books on meditation, including, “Patience: The Art of Peaceful Living.”
Weiss said they've received messages from his fans, including Desmond Tutu of South Africa and several Tibetan Monks in Tibet who heard about the crash.
In addition to Weiss and Lokos, reports say there were several other foreigners aboard the plane, including British and Australian tourists.
The cause of the crash remains unclear.
Weiss said Lokos’ experiences with mediation is helping him now. “Every doctor says, 'I can't believe how strong he is, both physically and emotionally.' And spiritually, he has just held together. His years of practice have just been there for him,” she said.
Weiss said now they’re waiting to hear if Lokos can be airlifted to New York Presbyterian Hospital for further treatment.