Chesley Sullenberger true story
Captain Chesley Burnett "Sully" Sullenberger departs New York's LaGuardia airport aboard an Airbus A320 on January 15, 2009, the way he has countless times before. Along with First Officer Jeffrey Skiles, who is guiding the aircraft for the time being, the plane ascends into the skies and the pilots are prepared for a seemingly normal trip bound for Charlotte, North Carolina. But after a short two minutes into the flight, and more than 3,000 feet into the air, US Airways Flight 1549 collides with a flock of Canadian geese. The birds glide directly into the plane's engines, immediately rendering them ineffective.
Suddenly, Chesley finds himself on a powerless plane that's slowly plummeting towards the ground. Rather than panic, though, he composes himself and executes a controlled water landing on the icy Hudson River. Not one of the 155 passengers is killed on impact and all are evacuated to safety.
The event, which has since come to be referred to as the Miracle on the Hudson, sparked both national and international attention. Chesley, who was born January 23, 1951 in Texas and holds two master's degrees from Purdue University and the University of Northern Colorado, was instantly thrust into the spotlight. His praises were sung, his picture plastered across newspapers and websites, and his name attached to one heavy word: hero.
The label didn't come naturally to Chesley, who said in a 2015 interview with Newsweek that adjusting to the term was a learning process. "It was a very steep learning curve. I went from living my life anonymously for 58 years to being a public figure known globally in a matter of minutes," he said.
During the same interview, he also opened up about the extraordinariness of events on Januray 15, 2009. "It was a day like literally 10,000 other days — until it wasn't. I had been flying airplanes for 42 years, and in all that time I never knew when or even if I would be faced with some ultimate challenge. I had never been so challenged in an airplane that I doubted the outcome," he said.
Addressing the birds that inadvertently caused the mayhem, Chesley said, "I had seen the birds about two or three seconds before we struck them — but not enough time to maneuver away. When we struck them and the engines were damaged, I knew in that moment that it was going to be a life-changing event — that this was going to be unlike any experience I had ever had. I knew it was going to be the hardest day of my life, the biggest problem I would ever have to solve. But I was confident I could solve it. I never thought I would die that day. I was just trying to make sure that no one else did."
He succeeded in that effort, and departed the plane last after ensuring every passenger had been safely removed.
Much has been said about the incredibly calm demeanor of Chesley and his ability to demonstrate a sense of repose under such critical conditions. But he has said people's understanding of the event and his actions are somewhat misinformed.
When speaking about the cockpit recordings taken from the plane and the apparent composure displayed by both himself and First Officer Jeffrey, Chesley said, "That's a misperception. We were able to exercise a kind of professional calm, but we weren't calm at all. We couldn't be calm. I was aware of my blood pressure shooting up, my pulse spiking, my perception field narrowing because of the stress; it was actually marginally debilitating."
Evidently, the high stress levels of the situation spilled over into a form of post-trauma. Chesley said he was plagued by nightmares of the event that lasted for weeks, his blood pressure and pulse were elevated for over two months, and for the first few days following the emergency landing, he was incapable of sleeping for more than an hour at a time.
Both Chesley and Jeffrey also had the investigation to overcome. Although they felt like they made the appropriate decision at every juncture, that was left up to authorities to evaluate. According to Chesley, "Most people don't understand that part of the story."
But they were granted relief when federal investigators concluded that the men exercised quick thinking and supreme judgement to safely land their crippled airliner.
The heroic endeavor, which Chesley calls, "one of those events that divides your life in 'before and after'" halves, earned him congratulatory phone calls from President George W. Bush and president-elect Barack Obama. Additionally, he was an honored guest at President Barack Obama's inauguration, and the U.S. Senate as well as the House of Representatives passed resolutions applauding him and his crew.
Chesley retired in March 2010. After 30 years as a commercial pilot, and having served in the U.S. Air Force from 1973-1980, he shifted his focus to the safety consulting business he founded in 2007 — Safety Reliability Methods, Inc.
In 2009, HarperCollins published Chesley's memoir, titled Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters. The bestselling book forms the basis of Sully , Clint Eastwood's film adaptation of the Miracle on the Hudson, which stars Tom Hanks, Laura Linney, Aaron Eckhart and Anna Gunn. ~Matthew Pariselli