NEW YORK -- A storm sweeping the East Coast prompted Dr. James A. Block, the next president of Johns Hopkins Hospital, to abandon a planned house-hunting expedition in Baltimore and instead head home to Cleveland from a meeting in New York.
His flight lasted only seconds. "I was reading a book and the plane tried to take off but obviously it couldn't," said Dr. Block, 51, as he rested at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens before discharge yesterday.
"It dipped, then tried again, then we hit something."
Dr. Block, president and chief executive officer of University Hospitals in Cleveland and soon to become president of the Hopkins Hospital and Health System, was one of the lucky ones in the crash of USAir Flight 405.
He was battered and bruised, with badly cut hands and an abrasion on his nose.
"I didn't get scared until I realized where I was," Dr. Block said. "The plane had turned over and I was upside down, held in position by my seat belt.
"The plane was filling with water. I couldn't get the belt off and I was afraid I would drown. . . . Somehow, it got loose, I don't ## know how.
"I stood up, and of course I was standing on what had been the ceiling.
"Thinking about it now, one of the sad things was the absolute silence. There were no screams. I don't know where the people had gone. Nothing.
"There I was, alone in this folded metal mess. I saw light and I walkedthree steps in that direction. There was a hole. Outside, I saw a fire coming toward me. I had to get out of there. I knew there would be an explosion.
"But the hole was small, too small to get through. I started to tear bTC off pieces of sheet metal. I guess that is how my hands got" cut.
Dr. Block climbed out, onto what had been the plane's belly, then jumped into the water.