In the last year I’ve flown a fairly ridiculous number of times, back and forth across the country between California and New York several times a month.
Last week I realized that I’d taken for granted the relative safety I’d been traveling in, and the underlying skill that’s inherent in being a commercial airline pilot. I’m of course referencing Captain Chelsey B. “Sully” Sullenberger, the US Airways pilot that safely landed his plane on the Hudson River after losing both engines apparently to a flock of geese on January 15 (details).
Here’s the quote that will cement Capt. Sullenberger as a hero in my mind (from the homecoming celebration honoring him in Danville, CA):
“Circumstance determined that it was this experienced crew that was scheduled to fly that particular flight on that particular day,” he told the crowd. “But I know I can speak for the entire crew when I tell you we were simply doing the job we were trained to do.”
As vessels were coming to the aid of the plane and helping all 155 passengers get off in safety, keeping them out of the frigid January water, what was Capt. Sullenberger doing? He was still on board. He walked back down the aisle of the plane making sure he was without any doubt the last person off. And when he had done that, he did it again.
What strikes me about the quote above, especially in watching the video of the delivery (below), is that it’s deeply genuine. There’s no pretense in his delivery. He sat down right after he said it. No curtain calls. One can only take away that he really means exactly what he said; they trained to get their passengers safely back on the ground, and at the one moment in his career when he needed to execute flawlessly on that training, he did exactly that. Nothing more, and certainly nothing less. No conspicuous lingering in the spotlight, no overt attempts to stretch his 15 minutes into 30. Just raw professionalism and character.
Please take a moment to look at the video and slide show below. It’s no wonder his wife can’t contain her emotion; she’s married to a genine American hero the likes of which we rarely see.