“This is the Captain,” the captain’s voice said over the intercom, “Brace for impact!”. A hush fell over the passengers. They thought they were going to die as the flight attendants were screaming: “Brace! Brace! Brace! Heads down! Stay down!”
On January 15th of 2009; a US Airways flight 1549 from New York’s LaGuardia Airport to Charlotte, North Carolina, left the tarmac at 15:25 with 155 passengers on board an Airbus A320 led by Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger III who is a 57-year-old former Air Force fighter pilot and a 29-year veteran of US Airways, and the Copilot Jeff Skiles.
Sullenberger thought he was in for an average flight-a routine, everyday trip.
Everything was alright for the first 90 seconds after airborne until something caught the eye of the Copilot (“Jeff Skiles”) at 3,000 feet, he saw a flock of Canada geese headed toward the plane, he shouted: “Birds!!”; moments later the geese struck the fuselage, wings, and engines.
The passengers felt a powerful thud against the airplane, along with severe vibrations from the engines, and a loud explosion. The cabin was then filled up with smoke, a horrible smell came to be, and then an eerie quiet: both engines were disabled.
Sullenberger made the mayday radio call to the Air Traffic Control (ATC): “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday, followed with the explanation of the situation but calmly”.
They discussed their options. It was either they return to LaGuardia or land at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, as it was the closest Airport to them.
But surprisingly Sullenberger decided on a radical move: He’d ditch the plane in the Hudson River!!
We all know that neither the Airbus A320 nor any other passengers plane is built to land on water!
“Brace for impact,” said Sullenberger through the intercom. Passengers thought they were going to die. Actually, anyone in this situation would think that. The flight attendants start yelling: “Brace! Brace! Brace! Heads down! Stay down!”.
Sullenberger lowered the plane’s nose in gradual glide toward the river. The plane managed to clear the George Washington Bridge and, against the odds, he landed safely on the surface of the Hudson. It skidded across the water at 145 mph and finally slowed to a stop!
He jumped out from his seat quickly and went out of the cockpit and shouted: “Evacuate the plane!”
His job was now to get all passengers out of the plane, which was quickly filling up with water.
Witnesses were convinced that everyone on this flight was dead. What they couldn’t see was that passengers were already exiting the plane.
With water seeping into the plane, Sullenberger and Skiles walked the length of the cabin twice, calling “Is anyone there?!”. The water was too cold, they had to walk on top of the seats. But they would not leave the plane until they were sure everyone was out.
“He’s the man,” said one of the rescued passengers. “If you want to talk to a hero, get a hold of him.”
“He was thinking in nanoseconds,” said a dormer airline pilot, speaking of Sullenberger. “He made all the right choices at all the right times. He might have been staring at the instrument, but he was feeling that airplane in his hands. He picked his landing spot and went for it”.
After all the thanking was over, Sullenberger was humble. “You’re welcome,” he said simply. Like most heroes, he didn’t want the label. According to him, he was just doing his job.
But 154 men, women, and children owed their lives to a modest man who faced adversity with cool competence on one of the most remarkable days in aviation history.
In 2016, a lot of people got to relive what happened when a movie was made about this incident called “Sully”. Tom Hanks was representing Sullenberger, the movie was directed by Clint Eastwood and it won several awards.
I recommend watching it if you didn’t do so yet!