Seven years ago, the world watched as Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger safely glided US Airways Flight 1549 onto the Hudson River after a flock of birds took out both engines.
People everywhere let out a collective sigh of relief as 155 passengers, flight crew and pilots evacuated the aircraft unharmed.
“He was headed straight for the George Washington Bridge”, passenger Dave Sanderson recalls.
“Clearing the bridge is an amazing feat. One degree and all of a sudden this thing could have been a bigger tragedy than 9/11”.
The story of the Miracle on the Hudson has been told enough times to garner Sullenberger household hero status. It’s now being told again on the big screen in the film Sully, directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Tom Hanks, but this time it’s a different side of the story.
“It’s the story that people don’t know,” Sully said. “They know that we landed and that everyone survived. They don’t know the dramatic part about the investigation in the immediate aftermath that lasted many months”.
One other thing they didn’t know is that despite all the praise and attention, including from the White House, Sully didn’t feel heroic.
“In fact, the character in the movie says, ‘I don’t feel like a hero.’ But I certainly have begun to understand with the passage of time people’s need to feel the way they do about the event and put the label on it.”
But not everyone was putting that label on it. Not only was Sully facing harsh criticism from people who accused him of putting passengers in more danger than necessary, he became the subject of a serious investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.
“I’ve been on both sides of the investigator’s table,” Sully said. “But that still didn’t make it any easier to endure that process, and it was many months before we had learned that they agreed that we had made the right choices at every juncture.”
After examining whether Sully could have safely turned back to New York’s LaGuardia Airport, the safety board determined the captain’s split-second decision to force land on Jan. 15, 2009 was the most appropriate action.
Sully, opening Friday, Sept. 9, reveals what life was like for the now retired pilot in what he calls the traumatic months following the event.
“I am very happy with the movie. Ever since it was announced that Clint was going to direct, I felt like I was in good hands,” Sully said.
“And it was a story that touched a lot of people, even people not associated with this flight. At the time when we needed it, it gave people hope.”