“You have to land poor Sully,” Peggy told me. And she was right. We had seen the plane he had been flying when we were visiting with our daughter and her family in North Carolina over Christmas. A month ago, I had promised to do a post on the ill-fated flight. I was distracted. Ever since, I’ve left Sully circling in the air over New York City.
Peggy and I were visiting the Carolinas Aviation Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina to check out the Airbus A 320 that Captain Chesley Sullenberger had landed on the Hudson River when I heard, “Captain Sully, may I take your photo?” I looked around, excited that Sully was at the museum. I wanted to take his photo, too! A 30-something guy was making a beeline across the museum toward me. I glanced behind me; no one was there. By then, the man had reached me, beaming, his hand outstretched.
“It’s a privilege to meet you, Captain,” he declared while grabbing my hand.
“I am not Sully,” I laughed, “But you are welcome to take my photo.” He yanked out his iPhone and took a selfie of the two of us, which he immediately sent off to his brother in Texas. I walked over and studied a display that featured the captain. Yes, we both had white hair and a mustache.
On January 15, 2009, Sully, along with first-officer Jeffrey Skiles, left La Guardia Airport in New York on US Airways Flight 1549 on their way to Charlotte, North Carolina. Skiles was piloting the plane. One and one half minutes into the flight, a flock of Canadian Geese appeared, crashed into the airplane, and were sucked into the jet’s engines. Birds crashing into airplanes are nothing new; it’s been happening ever since man learned how to fly. In fact, the month I was born, Westinghouse engineers were firing dead chickens 200 mph at airplane windows to determine if the windows could withstand the impact. Splat!
“I could hear the thump and thud,” Sully said afterwards about the geese.
The impact was fatal for the geese. The ones sucked into the engines immediately became cooked geese, minced and over-done— airplane food, you might say. It could have been fatal for Sully and the other 154 people on Board Flight 1549 as well, had it not been for the extensive experience and quick thinking of Sully. Both jet engines lost power. Zero thrust was available to fly the plane. “May Day! May Day” Sully called to La Guardia. Preparations were made for an emergency landing at La Guardia and at Teterboro, another nearby airfield in New Jersey. Runways were cleared and fire engines revved up. Sully took over flying the plane from Skiles. Skiles jumped into reading the four pages of the emergency flight manual on how to restart stalled engines.
Sully did a quick mental calculation. Could he get back safely to La Guardia or Teterboro? Forty years of experience, 20,000 hours of flying, and his official participation in a number of airplane crashes told him no. His plane was too low and his speed was too slow. Trying to get to either of the fields would lead to the Airbus crashing into one of the most densely populated areas of North America. In addition to the 155 people on board, several hundred other lives could be lost.
“We can’t do it … We’re going to land on the Hudson,” he told Skiles and the control tower at La Guardia. “Brace for impact,” he told the flight crew and passengers. The flight crew immediately began yelling in unison, “Brace for impact, heads down, stay down!” “Brace for impact, heads down, stay down!” over and over. As passengers prayed and cried and desperately tried to make last-minute phone calls, Sully aligned the plane with the Hudson River and barely missed the George Washington Bridge. Could he avoid hitting any boats on the river? Could he land at exactly the right angle to reduce the likelihood of the Airbus being torn apart or sent cartwheeling across the Hudson?
People who happened to be looking out the windows of tall skyscrapers along the Hudson watched in heart-stopping horror as the large plane flew by and headed for its fateful plunge into the icy Hudson.
A few seconds before impact, Scully straightened out the plane and pulled back on the rudder to achieve the correct angle for a water landing. And then, 208 seconds after the engines had lost power, the plane plunged into the Hudson and shot under the water, creating total darkness— before it popped back up onto the surface.
The plane was filling with water. Fast action by the crew, with cooperation from the passengers, got everyone out of the Airbus. Sully was the last to leave, desperately trying to make sure that no one was left behind. Nearby boats on the river sped to the rescue. All 155 people were rescued with only a few minor injuries. A hero was created; a legend was born.
If you haven’t already seen it, I highly recommend watching the movie “Sully” starring Tom Hanks as Sully and directed by Clint Eastwood.
Next Blog: It’s back to the Sierra Trek!
33 thoughts on ““Captain Sully, May I Take Your Photo?” … A Fateful Plunge into the Hudson River”
I can’t imagine the terror of being on that plane – hearing the thump, feeling the descent, hitting the water, and … going under?! I never knew that part, and I think it would have been the most terrifying thing of all! Thanks for the details, Captain Sully! Quite fascinating.
Terrifying is right. I am sure that most felt it was the end.
And you are welcome, Lex. The story and the trip to the museum were unforgettable. –Sully
Oops, I mean, –Curt 🙂
We have seen the movie and it was wonderful. But what a thrill that must have been seeing the very plane that is now part of the Sully legend. Maybe you should have stayed a bit longer and taken a few more selfies as Sully 😃
Fascinating, and Peggy and I watched the movie just before we went to the museum. Maybe I should have offered to sign autographs… (grin) –Curt
Interesting to see and hilarious about the mis-identification!
Peggy and I got quite a chuckle out of it Cindy. You know how all of us “old white dudes” look the same. 🙂
I’ve seen the movie and certainly remember the news of this miraculous landing. Truly incredible. Shall we start calling you Sully now? 🙂
Truly incredible, indeed Sue. But we can pass on calling me Sully. 🙂 –Curt
I remember Sully’s sort of ‘Aw shucks’ attitude to the whole thing and crediting his years of flying to his quick and brilliant decision. A true hero just doing his job in the best way possible.
That was it, Peggy, and I think that’s what he truly believed. He had a hard time with all of the attention. He also suffered a bit of PTSD following his landing. He kept picturing himself crashing into buildings. –Curt
Not bad to be mistaken for Captain Sully, much worse to be Sulley from ‘Monsters, Inc.’
When I went to work for PPG industries in 1971, they were shooting chickens (already deceased) out of cannons at plane windows to test them, but that wouldn’t work with engines.
Not too long ago, an Air Force pilot friend doing a practice bomb run in Florida hit a wild turkey (or similar large bird). It shattered his windshield and covered him in bird residue. He was able to land on an abandoned field where two military personnel guarded the plane while he flew home on a commercial flight still in his bloody coveralls.
Thanks for the additional details and story, Ray! After the turkey (or whatever— there are lots of turkey-size birds in Florida), I guess it would have been back to shooting chickens at windows. I suspect you friend was extremely lucky (and also experienced and quick-thinking) to make it through. I’d wear the turkey guts as a badge of honor. –Curt
Oh yes we recalled the heroic deeds of Sully! And that all came out safe. A blessing from up high!
Certainly a lot of luck was involved in addition to Sully’s experience and quick decision making. Might turn anyone into a religious person! 🙂 –Curt
That was one of the most compelling news stories I can remember. And your piece? One of the best sentences is, “Skiles jumped into reading the four pages of the emergency flight manual on how to restart stalled engines.” I love that you included the manual’s photo, too. Sometimes the manual holds the answer, but I suspect, “Aw, $^#%# — just land in the river” wasn’t included as an option!
Suspect you are right, Linda! Besides, I think Skiles would have been finished with the four pages just about the time the plane hit the water. –Curt
Just watched that movie on Friday night! Really enjoyed it. But not sure why I chose to watch it while my college son was on a plane to Ireland. Not the best timing!
We were flying as well right after we saw the movie and visited the museum, Carrie. 🙂 It’s still a lot safer than driving down the freeway. I guess what you hope for when you fly is to have a pilot with the competence of Sully. –Curt
Yeah! What a story! What a guy. I’ve read that he says he was just doing what he’d been trained to do. Still, it was an amazing save. Must go now to find the movie 🙂
He has been very strong about just doing the job he was supposed to do, and trained to do, Alison. America needed a hero then, however, as it needs one now. –Curt
Thank God for capt. Sully’s quick thinking and experience.
Yes, we both had white hair and a mustache. 🙂 🙂
You are quite gracious, Curt. 🙂
🙂 Peggy laughed when I told her about the case of mistaken identity. She was off taking photos of our grandkids in a jet fighter. –Curt
One of the very few good luck stories in aviation crash landing. He couldn’t have done it more perfectly. Will certainly look out for the film.
Pretty sure it will be in your video store or through streaming, AC. –Curt
Incredible story of incredible event with thankfully such a happy ending! Will be interested to see the movie.
It will definitely be worth your time, Peta. I also recommend watching the short additions that are included on the video. –Curt
Astonishing, heart-warming story.
Good news stories are all to rare, Hilary. –Curt
I do recall that day, as it happened on my very b’day… and I did watch it “live”, impressive and emotional… ❤ admiration and respect for Monsieur Sully… I loved the movie, too: Tom Hanks has been exceptional as Sully!!!
That would make an impression, Melanie! 🙂
I still lived in NYC when this happened and it was a very emotional moment to find out everyone made it! It is my hope that with the proper training I can become a pilot like Sully.