Flight 1549

Oct. 14, 2010

For several minutes, we were there; in the cockpit of Flight 1549 as Captain Chesley Sullenberger calmly told the air traffic controller: “We’re going in the Hudson.” The dispatcher responded equally calmly: “Say again?” And Sullenberger responded with determination and fortitude: “We’re going in the Hudson.” The controller thought that certainly it would be the last time he would ever communicate with the man who has simply been dubbed ‘Sully’.

You could hear a pin drop as Captain Sullenberger played for the audience at the ASIS Keynote Speaker Session a NTSB voice transcript of the communication between the U.S. Air Force Academy graduate/veteran pilot Captain Sullenberger and air traffic controllers and the packed audience watched a recreated graphic of the flight path of the Airbus A320 bound from New York’s LaGuardia Airport to Charlotte, North Carolina.

Packed with 155 passengers, the jet hit a flock of birds shortly after takeoff, disabling both engines. Quickly and with calm resolve, Captain Sullenberger knew almost immediately that his life’s aspirations to become a pilot would be tested that day as never before and the decision to ditch the plane into the Hudson was the only choice to try to save the plane crowded with business travelers.

In a talk that was both heart wrenching and inspirational, Captian Sullenberger treated the audience to an inside look at what happened that day on January 15, 2009 and how it changed his life forever, thrusting him into the media limelight and making him a hero across every continent.

“In retrospect,” Sullenberger said, “my crew and I did our jobs exceptionally well—we came up with a plan in a matter of seconds. I was an ordinary person who found himself in extraordinary circumstances,” he said. He had some 20,000 hours of flight time logged and decades of experience.

Sullenberger said he thought that what really captured the imagination of the world with this story was that it came at a time when people really needed a reason to be hopeful again, seen as a life affirming incident. He said since that day he has received thousands of letters, one with five single dollars and a note that read: ‘Have a beer on me Sully.’

Captain Sully told of his childhood, his lifelong desire to become a pilot and who he looks to for inspiration—the nation’s Medal of Honor recipients, 26 of 87 who are still living.“Courage may be having the discipline to know what to do in spite of fear.”

He spoke of the value of education, of being a lifelong learner, of having aspirations and operating with civic duty. “Dedication matters and requires discipline. Integrity means doing the right thing even if it’s not convenient. You all have an opportunity to be a leader, to be a teammate, to make a difference. Ask yourself: ‘did I make a difference?’ and hopefully the answer is ‘yes.’”

– Deborah L. O’Mara, editor, SD&I magazine