Ten years ago today the world got to know the name of Captain Chesley Sullenberger (and First Officer Jeffrey Skiles) as he landed his US Airways Airbus A320, Flight 1549, on the Hudson river in midtown Manhattan, New York.
When we hear the word “hero”, we often conjure images of buff, superhuman characters who wear sleek costumes, pummel and put away dangerous crooks, and save the world every now and then. In actuality, the real heroes are much simpler human beings. Heroes come from all walks of life and span the whole spectrum of extraordinary. A hero can exhibit strength and courage. A hero may demonstrate service and selflessness. Most importantly, however, a hero inspires —inspires people to aspire and dream, to see past their own needs and desires by putting others before themselves, to strive for greatness and, most importantly, goodness.
The news of the US Airways flight 1549 down sent shock waves through the nation when it was informed that a flock of geese sent the 155 people on board hurtling into the Husdon River—and all of them survived. Images of the floating plane and crowds of passengers huddled on the wings flashed across every news network in America. What could have been a catastrophic crash was converted into a moment of triumph for the crew members of the flight 1549 and a cause for celebration for relatives of the lucky passengers. The mastermind behind this miracle was none other than Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger.
Captain Sully, 57, exhibited a keen interest for flying early on in his life. He was born on January 23, 1951 in Texas and liked to build model planes and air craft carriers as a child. His father served in the United States Navy, which may have inspired young Chesley Sullenberger to pursue flying himself.
Sullenberger earned his piloting license when he was 14, attended the United States Air Force Academy, was chosen to participate in a selective cadet glider program, and became an instructor pilot by the end of his freshman year in college. He has been employed by US Airways since 1980 and has engaged in numerous activities and investigations involving aviation accidents and flight safety, including a running safety consulting business since 2007. Considering his outstanding credentials, Sullenberger is certainly an exemplary pilot one could trust with their life.
That’s precisely what the passengers and crew members were subject to do on January 15, 2009, when a flock of geese took out both engines of the US Airways passenger jet just minutes after takeoff from LaGuardia Airport. From New York the flight was scheduled to land at Charlotte/Douglas International Airport in Charlotte, NC, but the plane hovered at dangerously low altitude above the city. Realizing that neither returning to LaGuardia nor attempting to reach Teterboro Airport in New Jersey were practical options, Captain Sully quickly decided to ditch in the nearby waterway. He managed make a neat emergency landing in the Hudson River while maintaining complete calm and control. A mere five minutes after takeoff, evacuation procedures were already underway and nearby ferries pitched in to haul the passengers off of the plane wings.
Not only did Captain Sully land the plane safely and levelly, but he walked the length of it twice after everyone had exited to ensure that no one was trapped onboard.
Sullenberger was received by the people of his hometown, Danville, CA, with overwhelming acclamation and enthusiasm. He and the crew members on the flight were awarded a gold-plated “Key to the City” by the mayor of New York. Captain Sully was and continues to be lavished with praise by admirers across the globe for his critical role in “the miracle on the Hudson”.
This tremendous demonstration of swift decisiveness, good judgment, and pure valiance saved 155 lives, energized the nation, and inspired its people. Captain Chesley Sullenberger is undoubtedly worthy to be called a hero.