On January 15, 2009, US Airways Flight 1549, commanded by Captain Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger and first officer Jeffrey B. Skiles, made an emergency landing in New York City’s Hudson River. The successful landing and evacuation of all passengers and crew became known as the miracle on the Hudson. Sullenberger is now retired from US Airways but remains involved in the aviation industry. His efforts that day in conjunction with those of Skiles remain a classic example of the necessity of extensive training and extraordinary ability to focus on the issues at hand. Sullenberger has said that he does not consider himself a hero. In his mind, he was doing what a well-trained pilot was supposed to do; fly the plane and try to land it while preserving the lives of everyone on board. And on that day, that is exactly what happened. Prior to the incident, his name was largely unknown outside of US Airways. His face just another pilot that thousands of passengers walk past each day as they leave their flights. The men and women who travel the skies are rarely acknowledged for a job that requires tremendous sacrifice, patience and dedication. But just who is Chesley Sullenberger? And why is his story so amazing?
In this autobiography and memoir about the flight, Sullenberger opens up about his life that began in a small town called Denison, Texas. He realizes at an early age that flying is his passion and makes it his life’s mission. As we know now, he accomplished that goal and will be remembered as one of the greatest pilots we’ve come to know. But behind the skilled aviator is a simple man who leads a simple life who has been dedicated to aviation for nearly his whole life. And that is the true beauty of the book. Sullenberger makes it easy to relate to him and does go out of his way to bring undue praise to himself. His comments about the life of a pilot and bits of information about the airline industry are interesting and highlight the tremendous sacrifice pilots often have to make both personally and professionally.
After reading the book, I felt as if I knew Sullenberger personally. And if I met him person, I would probably be tempted to call him simply “Sully”. To the passengers of flight 1549, he will always be the best pilot they have ever flown with. And while nearly none of them will probably ever see him again in person, they are forever bonded by the events of that day. What I truly loved about his story is that he remains a humble person in spite of the fame and notoriety. And when he is not in the cockpit, he is a father and husband who struggles as he continues to learn how to be both. His story is one that nearly all pilots can relate to and in telling his story, he is telling their story as well.
His mind is truly one of a seasoned aviator and his ability to analyze all components of a flight and the dynamics required to a successful flight are a testament to his career and accomplishments. And because of this story, I have a deeper appreciation for all of the work that is required for a commercial aircraft to make it from one airport to the next. I will be sure to say thank you as I pass the cockpit before exiting my flight. Each time I sit down before taking off, I will think back to his story and remind myself that the pilots at the controls have put their lives on hold so that I may enjoy mine.