The Pilot of US Airways Flight 1549 Was Just Doing His Job

closePlease note: This post was published over a year ago, so please be aware that its content may not be quite so accurate anymore. Also, the format of the site has changed since it was published, so please excuse any formatting issues.

US Airways Flight 1549I want to be clear at the outset of this post that I’m glad no one died in this incident, and that the injuries sustained were mostly minor. The incident could have been much worse, and it’s thanks to everyone involved—both passengers and crew—that things went as smoothly as they did.

That having been said, I don’t understand why the crew of US Airways Flight 1549, and Captain Sullenberger in particular, are getting what I feel are undue heaps of praise. I’m not saying their actions aren’t worthy of recognition, but let’s be honest, they were doing their jobs. Granted, they were doing them under fairly extreme conditions, but part of the training to work on a commercial airliner (especially since 2001) is disaster preparedness.

The Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators, which awarded the crew its Master’s Medal, even acknowledged this, calling their actions, “text book.” However, the guild went on to to say, “to have safely executed this emergency ditching and evacuation, with the loss of no lives, is a heroic and unique aviation achievement.” A unique aviation achievement? While I have no links to back me up, I’m sure that history is littered with emergency landings where no lives were lost.

Yes, our country has had a tumultuous relationship with the aviation disasters in the recent past. Yes, this situation could have been much worse if not for the actions of the crew. However, there are millions of people who work under extreme conditions every day, many of whom are responsible for the lives of others, and none of whom receive such grandiose accolades for their work.

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  1. Tom

    Maybe this article will provide some insight:

    Crew of plane that landed in Hudson gives first TV interview

    Pilot said power loss to engines was ‘worst, sickening, pit-of-your-stomach’ feeling he had ever felt in his life

    McClatchy newspapers, Monday 9 February 2009 15.43 GMT

    larger | smaller

    Somewhere between the lines of Ralph Waldo Emerson – “A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is braver five minutes longer” – and Andy Warhol – “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes” – fits the story of a well-trained pilot, his cool-as-McQueen moment and a spotlight that refuses to dim.

    The fascination and national applause only seems to grow around Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and the water landing that saved all 155 passengers and crew of US Airways Flight 1549.

    Following his Super Bowl appearance and a standing ovation on Saturday at a Broadway performance of South Pacific, Sullenberger and his crew appeared on CBS’s 60 Minutes on Sunday, their first public detailing of the three harrowing minutes when the Airbus 320 landed in the Hudson river.

    The man of steely calm the public heard on cockpit recordings – Sullenberger flatly informing air traffic controllers, “We’re going to be in the Hudson” – in reality was a staggered airline captain fighting to stay focused after a flock of ill-fated birds deadened both engines a few minutes after takeoff on 15 January, he told Katie Couric.

    That matter-of-fact grace after they all reached safety? A man in shock, he said.

    “It was the worst, sickening, pit-of-your-stomach, falling-through-the-floor feeling I’ve ever felt in my life,” Sullenberger said of the loss of engine power.

    “… My initial reaction was one of disbelief: ‘I can’t believe this is happening. This doesn’t happen to me.'”

    Sullenberger, 58, recalled the “loud thumps” of birds hitting the plane and the smell of burned birds sweeping through the air system, the plane’s low, slow trajectory and the realisation that he could not make it back to LaGuardia, or any other airport.

    “The physiological reaction I had to this was strong, and I had to force myself to use my training and – and force calm on the situation,” he said.

    The interview marked the start of a major national media binge for Sullenberger and the plane’s crew. To Couric, he suggested a reason he’s riding the national television rails.

    It took time, he said, to warm to the hero label – after the flashbacks and sleep trouble as he grappled to “forgive myself for not having done something else. Something better. Something more complete. I don’t know.” Then came the deluge of heartfelt letters and gratitude from the passengers and their families, and the frenzy of national attention.

    “I don’t feel comfortable embracing it, but I don’t want to deny it. I don’t want to diminish their thankful feeling toward me by telling them that they’re wrong. I’m beginning to understand why they might feel that way,” he said.

    “Something about this episode has captured people’s imagination. I think they want good news. I think they want to feel hopeful again. And if I can help in that way, I will.”

    The miserable economy may help stoke the fascination with all things “Sully,” but the pilot would be heralded regardless, said Peter Gibbon, author of A Call to Heroism: Renewing America’s Vision of Greatness.

    Gibbon pointed to three components that make a hero: extraordinary achievement; bravery and courage; and “greatness of soul”. Sullenberger’s humility stirs the public admiration, Gibbon said.

    “We want our heroes to be modest. One of the appealing things about the captain is he’s everyman. He’s a reluctant hero. He’s the Gary Cooper type, and he also gives credit to the team,” said Gibbon, a senior research scholar at Boston University.

    “I don’t think the accolades would have been less intense in better times. I think we’re always interested in finding heroes.” © Guardian News and Media Limited 2009

  2. Phil

    For a pilot’s perspective on the incident, try this link and read the entries for Jan. 16th and Jan. 21st.

  3. Snarge

    Since it was a bird strike that brought down US Airways Flight 1549, I wanted to talk briefly about snarge. When a bird and an airplane collide, the plane often wins (although sometimes they both lose), and the bird goo…

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