ow the hero of Hudson
The unflappable pilot who landed his US Airways jet safely on the Hudson River in New York was described by a friend last night as one of the last American gentlemen.
Captain Chesley B “Sully” Sullenberger III, who guided the crippled US Airways Flight 1549 to an emergency landing in the river, just off Manhattan’s West 48th Street, was compared to David Niven.
Friends said they were not surprised that the courtly silver-haired aviator and crisis-management expert had saved the lives of all 155 people on board. His unprecedented feat of landing a commercial airliner on water without any loss of life has been dubbed “The Miracle on the Hudson”.
Captain Sullenberger’s wife, Lorrie, described last night how he called her to break the news, having pulled off one of the most dramatic escapes in aviation history. “There’s been an accident,” he told her, minutes after ditching his stricken Airbus A320 in the freezing river.
Both engines are believed to have been knocked out when the jet hit a flock of geese shortly after take-off from LaGuardia airport on Thursday.
After steering the aircraft away from heavily populated Manhattan, Captain Sullenberger glided the powerless jet down into the water intact, less than 300m from George Washington Bridge.
While the aircraft began to sink, Captain Sullenberger, 57, twice walked the length of the jet to ensure that all 150 passengers and four crew were off safely before leaving himself. Then he called his wife.
“At first I thought it was something minor, but then he told me the circumstances and my body started shaking and I rushed to get our daughters out of school,” Mrs Sullenberger, 50, said.
His wife, a fitness trainer, fought back tears of happiness as she described the shock on realising the scale of the incident. “My body won’t stop shaking. I think he’s fine. I’m relieved,” she said at home with her two daughters in Danville, California. “Like everyone else, I was stunned when he called. Your mind never goes through something like this.
“We’d just like to say that we are very grateful that everyone is off the airplane safely. And that was really what my husband asked me to convey to everyone.”
But she was not surprised that the former Air Force pilot with 40 years of flying experience should have played down his role. “I have said for a long time: he’s a pilot’s pilot and he loves the art of the airplane,” she said.
Mrs Sullenberger admitted that the family found it strange to hear the world calling her husband a hero. She said that when her two daughters went to sleep on Thursday night, “I could hear them talking, ‘Is this weird or what?’”
Captain Sullenberger was due to meet investigators yesterday as salvage crews brought in a crane to hoist the aircraft on to a barge from its mooring at Manhattan’s Battery Park City.
Only a wing tip could be seen jutting out of the water and divers were last night inspecting the jet, expected to be raised today. Until then, the black box, located in the semi-submerged tail, remained out of reach.
After radioing the control tower to report a “double bird strike”, Captain Sullenberger considered emergency landings at two airports, but told air controllers he would be unable to make them and instead took the decision to put the jet down in the river.
Experts praised his skill in landing the plane without either the nose or the wings ploughing into the water, which would have flipped the aircraft. Officials said the jet only suffered damage to one wing, allowing the fuselage to stay intact so that it did not flood completely.
Passengers scrambled out of the emergency exits at the front and over the wings, while leaving the rear exits closed to keep the water out. They waited knee-high in water on the wings or in inflatable life rafts until Manhattan-New Jersey ferries sped to their rescue.
Billy Campbell, a passenger who shared a rescue raft with the pilot, said: “I leaned over and grabbed his arm, and I said ‘I just want to thank you on behalf of all of us’. He just said, ‘You’re welcome’.”
Barry Leonard, a passenger who was travelling in the first row, said: “I got into the raft. But it obviously was very cold. One of the pilots gave me his shirt. The pilot gave me the shirt off his back to keep me warm.” He was speaking from his hospital bed, still clutching the pilot’s shirt.
Jeff Kolodjay, another passenger, from Norwalk, Connecticut, said: “The pilot told us to brace for impact and that pilot did one hell of a job making sure everyone, or the vast majority of people, got off.”
Brad Wentzell said: “He is the reason my daughter, my two-year-old, has a dad and my wife, a husband.”
A police officer said: “After the crash he was sitting there in the ferry terminal, wearing his hat, sipping his coffee and acting like nothing happened.”
Captain Sullenberger grew up in Texas, watching aircraft from the edge of a local airstrip and earned his pilot’s licence at the age of 14 while still in school. He joined US Airways in 1980 after serving as an F4 Phantom fighter pilot in the US Air Force for seven years. The head of a consulting company called Safety Reliability Methods, he also has a master’s degree in psychology and has acted as safety chairman of the pilots’ union.
Neighbours describe him as a devoted family man. The family takes part in charity walks and raises guide dogs for the blind.
Robert Bea, a close friend, said: “I think he is feeling tired. I think he is also feeling satisfied that he was able to actually do what he had prepared for during his life.”
President Bush praised the crew’s “skill and heroism” and Michael Bloomberg, the Mayor of New York, offered them the keys of the city.
Deadly risks of ditching
2005 Tuninter flight 1153 lost power after running out of fuel off Sicily. The plane was found in three pieces. Of 39 on board, 14 died
2000 Kenya Airways Flight 431 took off from Nairobi for Lagos but changed course owing to bad weather and flew to Abidjan. After a three-hour stop-off the plane took off for Lagos but crashed into the ocean a minute later. Only 10 passengers out of 179 survived
1998 Swiss Air Flight 111 landed in the Atlantic after a fire broke out at 33,000ft. All 229 people on board were killed
1996 An Ethiopian Boeing 727 had to make an emergency landing when it ran out of fuel after being hijacked off the coast of the Comoros. The pilot was landing the aircraft when a hijacker grabbed the controls, causing the plane’s wing tip to hit the water and spiral out of control. Out of 175 people on board, 125 were killed1982 Air Florida Flight 90 crashed into the River Potomac soon after take-off from Washington National Airport. It hit the 14th Street Bridge before landing in the river. The crew had failed to turn on anti-ice systems and had taken off using less power than they needed because of frozen instruments. Four died in cars on the bridge, 74 in the plane. Four passengers and one flight attendant survived.
[Immaculate, unflappable and now the hero of the Hudson
Times Online ]