Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Pilot's actions make him instant hero Add to ...

By all accounts, Chesley (Sully) Sullenberger is just the guy you'd want at the controls of a troubled and falling airplane.

A seven-year Air Force veteran and a US Airways pilot for another 29, Captain Sullenberger, 58, is long in experience both as a pilot and as a safety expert.

Yesterday, he was at the controls of a commercial jet that many say should have otherwise broken up as it dropped into the Hudson River, between New York and New Jersey.

But with Capt. Sullenberger at the helm of the powerless and failing plane, it came down into the narrow river with nothing other than a splash, seen for city blocks from either shore. Its fuselage intact, the plane sat upright, floating while passengers made their escape.

And soon after, as water gushed through open doors and rescue boats filled with passengers, it was Sully who paced the length of his ditched Airbus A320 - twice - making sure everybody was off, and safe.

"It would appear that the pilot did a masterful job of landing the plane in the river, and then making sure everybody got out," Mayor Michael Bloomberg told reporters.

"He was the last one up the aisle and he made sure that there was nobody behind him."

His wife holed up in her California home while accolades began to pour in for her husband, whom New York media took immediately to calling the Hero of the Hudson.

"He is the consummate pilot," Lorrie Sullenberger told the New York Post. "He is about performing that airplane to the exact precision to which it is made."

According to his online résumé, Capt. Sullenberger graduated from the Air Force academy in 1973, becoming a pilot. He flew F-4 Phantoms in Europe and Asia, and served on the USAF accident investigations board - the first in a number of safety-related positions he has held in his career.

After nearly seven years, he joined US Airways, where he has trained pilots on a series of planes and served as an accident investigator and as a local air safety chairman with the Airline Pilots Association.

A father of two, Capt. Sullenberger also founded Safety Reliability Methods, which offers "the latest advances in safety and high performance and high reliability processes to organizations in a variety of fields," according to its website.

His plane had just taken off from New York's LaGuardia Airport yesterday when passengers heard a bang and saw smoke in the left wing. Capt. Sullenberger reportedly radioed in, saying they'd been hit by a "double bird strike" and lost power.

Soon after, the plane was going down. It didn't bode well - in almost every previous such attempt, a wing or engine would catch the water, causing the plane to flip and break apart. But Capt. Sullenberger had little choice. According to passengers, he warned everyone should "brace for impact," and within moments, they'd landed with just a strong jolt.

"He landed it - I tell you what - the impact wasn't a whole lot more than a rear-end [collision] It threw you into the seat ahead of you," passenger Joe Hart told The Associated Press.

He called Capt. Sullenberger's feat "phenomenal."

The pilot became an instant celebrity last night, with online groups popping up in his honour and his voice mail filled at Safety Reliability Methods. But most visible were the thanks of his passengers, who praised his calm and expertise.

"Kudos to him, man, he did a great job," a shaken and dripping-wet Jeff Kolodjay, told a swarm of media. "A couple ladies had some bad injuries and everything, but all in all I give my hats-off to the pilot."

Passenger Alberto Panero, speaking live to CNN, echoed the praise. "I can't believe that somehow he managed to land that plane safely."

 

In the know

Most popular videos »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular