- Published on Tuesday, 12 October 2010 17:00
- Written by Colleen Ryan - Special to the Town Crier
Capt. Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger III, hailed as a hero for crash-landing an Airbus A320 on the Hudson River and sparing the lives of 155 passengers and crew, told a Celebrity Forum audience Oct. 1 that his story is that of “an ordinary person who found himself in extraordinary circumstances.”
After disabled US Airways Flight 1549 landed safely on the water in Manhattan in January 2009, Sullenberger, thrust instantly into the media spotlight, achieved what he jokingly called “Santa Claus status,” with mail arriving at his Danville home marked simply “Hero Pilot.”
Sullenberger said the outpouring of support – letters, e-mails, Facebook fan pages, keys to cities – from around the world was humbling.
“We received thanks from every continent on the planet,” he said.
With the “Miracle on the Hudson” now 18 months in the rearview mirror, Sullenberger has taken time to process what happened and ponder why the event struck such a chord.
He concluded that the fateful landing happened at a time when the world was in the throes of a financial meltdown and “people were actively searching for good news.”
“It was seen as life-affirming – it gave people hope,” he said.
Sullenberger credited his four crewmembers – and first-responders to the crash, who sent ferries and blankets within four minutes of splashdown – and said Flight 1549 is a reminder of what’s at stake when we fly. People tend to forget, he said, how modern an endeavor flying is – the Wright Brothers first took flight only 106 years ago.
“We make it look easy, but it’s not,” he said. “It’s hard. Flying requires skill that rises to the level of mastery.”
It’s not uncommon to be unfamiliar with your crew, Sullenberger said – he and his first officer and three flight attendants met for the first time three days before the crash. And though he believes that as captain “everything, ultimately, is my responsibility,” hearing his fellow crewmembers performing their jobs during the landing inspired confidence in him.
A “realistic optimism” set in, Sullenberger said, a duality of mind – he and his crew could achieve goals while at the same time confronting immediate and dangerous circumstances.
“We never stopped working as a team that day,” he said. “I am very proud of the fact that the crew and I were up to the challenges we faced that day.”
In hindsight, would he do anything differently?
“Given the outcome, I would be reluctant to change anything about that day,” he said.
In the aftermath of the emergency landing, Sullenberger has made it his mission to advocate airline safety and use his newfound celebrity to advance charitable causes.
“I feel an intense obligation to use this situation for good,” he said.
As for the future, Hollywood’s calling. Producers have optioned the movie rights to Sullenberger’s memoir, and the captain laughingly said he expects George Clooney to play him.
Celebrity Forum has scheduled paleontologist Louise Leakey, Ph.D., to speak Oct. 27-29 at Flint Center at De Anza College in Cupertino. For tickets and more information, visit www.celebrityforum.net.