SULLY..... miracle  on  the  Hudson  -  the  book



SULLY…. the  book #1


In the early days after Flight 1549,1 could sleep only a couple hours at a time. I kept questioning myself. On the very first night, I had said to Lorrie: "I hope they know I did the best I could." That thought remained in my head.

It took me a couple of months to process what had happened and to work through the post-traumatic stress. Our pilots' union has a volunteer Critical Incident Response Program team that began helping me and the crew the day after our Hudson landing. I had asked them for a road map of what to expect. They told me I'd be sleeping less, I'd have distracted thinking, I'd lose my appetite, I'd have flashbacks, and I'd do a lot of second-guessing and "what-iffing."

They were right on all fronts. For the first couple of weeks, I couldn't read a book or newspaper for more than a few seconds without drifting off into thoughts of Flight 1549.

"You might find it hard to shut off your brain," I was told, and that described exactly what I was going through. I'd wake up in the middle of the night and my brain was running hard: What could I have done differently? What did other pilots think of what I had done? Could I have found time to tell the flight attendants that we'd be landing in water? Why didn't I say "Brace for water landing!" when I finally got on the public address system? Could I have done something else, something better?

Eventually, I dealt with the issues in my psyche and started sleeping again. I went through every scenario. For instance, if I had said "Brace for water landing," passengers might have begun fumbling around, desperately searching for life vests, rather than bracing. They might have panicked. The investigation would later show that before we took off, only 12 of 150 passengers had read the safety card in the seat pocket in front of them.

In the end, I was buoyed by the fact that investigators determined that Jeff and I made appropriate choices at every step. But even after I felt comfortable with the correctness of my decisions on January 15,1 longed for my life before that day.

For months, if I could have clicked my heels and made the whole incident go away, I would have done so. Lorrie and the girls also wished it had never happened. Though I never thought I was going to die, they certainly felt as if they had almost lost me on January 15. It was hard for them to shake the horror of that feeling.

In time, however, rny family came to see that our new reality was manageable, and we tried hard to find the positive possibilities in our new lives. I've been asked by colleagues to be a public advocate for the piloting profession and for airline safety, and I believe that's a high calling. In testimony before Congress, I was able to speak honestly and bluntly about important issues in the airline industry. I know I now have the potential for greater influence in aviation issues, and I plan to be judicious in how I wield that influence.

Meanwhile, the notoriety I gained from Flight 1549 has allowed my family to have more than a few memorable experiences and interactions that otherwise would have been beyond our reach.

We've been plucked from obscurity, and every day the phone rings with an invitation to some new adventure: Buckingham Palace, a Jonas Brothers concert, dinner parties with hosts who would never have noticed us in our previous lives. We're getting used to it, but Lorrie and I still find ourselves looking at each other and saying, "How did we get here?"

Our lives became pretty surreal within minutes of the world's learning about Flight 1549 on that Thursday afternoon.

My uniform was still wet from the Hudson when Lorrie and I began hearing from dignitaries, politicians, and the biggest names in the news media. It wasn't just producers calling, but the on-air personalities themselves: Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric, Matt Lauer. While I was sloshing around the ferry terminal in my waterlogged shoes, back at my house, our two phone lines, the fax line, and Lome's cell were all ringing simultaneously. One newspaper reporter even got hold of my daughter Kate's cellphone number and called looking for me.

By the morning after the incident, while I was still sequestered in New York, dozens of reporters and satellite trucks had gathered outside our house in Danville. Some of them would remain there for ten days.

Lorrie was poised but understandably emotional when she and the girls went outside on Friday morning to give the media a comment." We've been asked—now I'm going to cry. I have been crying the whole time," she said, then began again. "We have been asked not to say anything by US Air, so we're not going to make any statements about much. But we'd just like to say that we are very grateful that everyone is off the plane safely. That was really what my husband asked to convey to everyone."

A reporter asked how I was faring, and Lorrie answered: "He is feeling better today. You know, he's a pilot. He's very controlled and very professional... I have said for a long time that he's a pilot's pilot, and he loves the art of the airplane."

The media picked up on that description, including it in hundreds of stories that followed. Friends and strangers told me that Lorrie wasn't just a beautiful and loving wife. In the emotions of the moment, she turned out to be a pretty good spokesperson, too.

Lorrie was also asked how the family was taking the growing talk that I was a national hero. "It's a little weird—overwhelming," she answered. "I mean, the girls went to sleep last night talking, and I could hear them in the bedroom saying, Is this weird or what?'"

I wasn't able to see coverage of Lorrie's impromptu press conference outside our house. In fact, I was too busy to watch any of the media coverage.

The night of the landing, I had gotten just two hours' sleep. There was so much to do that night and the next day. I needed to have my wits about me for interviews with the National Transportation Safety Board. They had a great many questions. How much sleep had I gotten on Wednesday night? What did I eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? Was my blood sugar low? How did I feel on my flight earlier in the day? Was I tired? Distracted? How many days earlier was my last drink of liquor? It had been more than a week. It was a beer.

There were a few lighter moments, too. When we got to the hotel on the night of the incident, we were still in our wet clothes. All our belongings, of course, were on the plane. A fellow pilot who had come to help us ran out to a convenience store and purchased toiletries for us. Because we had no dry clothing, he also bought Jeff and me an identical wardrobe: black sweatsuits, black socks, and black, size-34 low-rise briefs. A week later I told him, "My wife liked those low-rise briefs. They're sexier than the whitey-tighties I normally wear." Jeff responded: "Your wife may like yours, but I'm a lot thicker around the middle than you are. Looks like they gave us the same-size briefs. On me, it looks like a thong."

I was in meetings all day Friday, feeling very stressed. I was used up. I was still trying to process everything, and I wanted to clearly recall what happened in the cockpit so I could help investigators sort out the details.

Then I heard that President George W. Bush, with just five days left in office, wanted to talk to me. Next thing I knew, he had called the cell phone of the vice president of our pilots' union, Mike Geary, who had been by my side for the past twenty hours. Mike handed the phone to me.

"Captain Sullenberger?"

"Yes, Mr. President," I said.

He was very friendly from the start. "You know," he said, "Laura and the staff and I were having something to eat and we were talking about you. I am in awe of your flying ability."

I thanked him. He then had an important question for me.

"Aren't you from Texas?"

"Yes, Mr. President," I said.

He answered like a true Texan: "Well, that explains it!"

I had to smile.

Then he had another question: "Didn't you fly fighters?"

"Yes," I told him. "F-4 Phantoms."

"I thought so," he said. "I could tell."

I didn't ask him how exactly he could tell, but I enjoyed his easy manner, and his Texas-centric view of the whole incident. It was just a pleasant, friendly conversation, and I made sure to tell him that the flight and the rescue were a team effort. I mentioned Jeff, Donna, Sheila, Doreen, the ferry crews, and he acknowledged them.

Despite all that had happened out on the Hudson the previous night, I hung up the phone and just marvelled at the way things work in America. Twenty hours before, I was just an anonymous pilot hoping to finish my last flight of a four-day trip, before quietly heading home. Now there I was, talking to the president like we were old buddies from Texas.

About ninety minutes later, I got another call. It was President-elect Barack Obama. He was also very friendly, though a bit more formal in his comments and questions. He invited me to the inauguration, and I immediately knew what my response had to be. I said, "Mr. President-elect, I'm honored, but may I presume to ask that should I be able to attend, it be on the condition that my entire crew and their families accompany me?"

He said yes.

And so we all went, and ended up meeting the new president privately at one of the inaugural balls. Even though it was his big night, he was very gracious and generous in his time with us. He joked with Lorrie. "You're not letting all of this go to your husband's head, are you?" he asked.

Lorrie answered: "People may think he's a hero, but he still snores."

President Obama started laughing. "You've got to tell my wife this," he said. "That's what she says about me." Mrs. Obama was about ten feet away, and he called over to her, "Hey, Michelle, come here, you've got to hear this!"

He had Lorrie repeat her story about my snoring habits, and the two women had a nice laugh at the expense of the president and the pilot.

We kept receiving invitations in the wake of Flight 1549, and some of them we accepted because, well, these would be experiences of a lifetime. How could we turn them down? The Flight 1549 crew was introduced at the Super Bowl, and we got to see the game from perfect seats. Lorrie and I went to an Academy Awards party, where she sat next to Michael Douglas and I got to talk at length with Sidney Pokier.

I was invited to throw out the first pitch at the second game held at the new Yankee Stadium. I made sure I was prepared—I didn't want to embarrass myself in front of fifty-two thousand Yankee fans—so I practiced for the pitch a few days a week for more than a month at a baseball diamond near my house. One of my neighbors, Paul Zuvella, a former major-league infielder who played with four teams, including the Yankees, was kind enough to coach me. I thought I was doing OK, but when it came time for my big pitch, it was a little outside. At least it didn't bounce. On the West Coast, I was also asked to throw first pitches at a San Francisco Giants game and an Oakland A's game.

Though I got the most attention, being the captain of the flight, I was pleased when Jeff, Donna, Sheila, and Doreen were recognized for everything they did. They were at first reluctant to enter the media spotlight, but then they realized that they could help give insights to the world about what it takes to work in the airline industry. Jeff had his share of perks—he got to throw out the first pitch at the Milwaukee Brewers' home opener—and he carried himself incredibly well in interviews. People also got to see that our three flight attendants were highly experienced and well trained; they helped save lives on January 15. Their story reminded everyone that flight attendants aren't just on board to serve coffee and peanuts. They're on the front lines with passengers, ensuring their safety, while we pilots are locked behind closed doors. Despite their initial reticence, Doreen, Sheila, and Donna came to feel an obligation to their peers to be as effective as they could as spokeswomen for their profession. They were class acts all the way. I was very proud of them.

There was a lovely welcome-home ceremony in my hometown of Danville, attended by several thousand residents. Later, I was invited to speak at graduation ceremonies back at my alma mater in Texas, Denison High School. I was beyond thrilled to see ninety-one-year-old Evelyn Cook, the widow of L. T. Cook Jr., who had taught me to fly from his grass strip. What a great honor it was to publicly recognize Mr. Cook's influence in my life, and to do so before such a large hometown crowd. It was also fun to be able to say, in front of the governor of Texas, former classmates, and the town's dignitaries: "How come you weren't this nice to me back in high school?"

Had even one person died on Flight 1549 I don't think I would have accepted any of these invitations. The whole incident would have had a much more somber feel to it. But the fact that all of us on the plane had lived made people want to celebrate, and I saw that participating in these events was meaningful to people—and to me.

It also became possible to laugh about the flight. Comic Steve Martin went on The Late Show with David Letterman and claimed to have been on board with us. Letterman then showed alleged footage of Steve Martin walking on the wings, pushing other passengers into the Hudson, so he could get to the VIP rescue boat. His little performance was very funny, even for those of us who had lived through it.

I was amused when businesses began taking advantage of the hoopla over the flight. Several entrepreneurs printed up "Sully Is My Flyboy" baseball caps and "Sully Is My Copilot" T-shirts, and one explained that he did so "because the flight was a sign that good things still happen in the world." The T-shirts were a bit embarrassing for me, but I was OK with them. And in any case, my actual copilot, Lorrie, was always there to keep things from going to my head.

One day in Los Angeles, we got into an elevator where people recognized me. When we got off, a young woman pulled out her cell phone and could be heard telling a friend: "It's so cool! I just ran into Sully the pilot!"

As she talked excitedly on the phone about meeting me, Lorrie was just ahead of her and couldn't help turning around at the mention of my name.

The young woman thought Lorrie had been just another random person on the elevator. "Wasn't that the coolest thing, bumping into Sully like that?" she said.

Lorrie answered, "Well, I'm his wife."

The young woman was a bit embarrassed. "Oh, I'm sorry. It's just that Sully's story makes everyone feel so good. What he did on that flight was so impressive!"

Lorrie smiled, and reassured her that I'm a regular guy—and not always so impressive. "Listen," she said, "I saw him walking around the hotel room this morning in his underwear."

The woman walked off, talking into her cell phone. I'm guessing she told her friend all about Lome's report from our hotel room.

In the weeks after Flight 1549, I finally got to read some of the newspaper stories and see a bit of the TV coverage. For the most part, the media did a pretty good job.

There was an incorrect description of me in one newspaper story that ended up getting repeated around the world. A "police source" was quoted as saying: "After the crash, Mr. Sullenberger was sitting in the ferry terminal wearing his hat, sipping his coffee and acting like nothing happened." A rescuer was quoted as saying: "He looked absolutely immaculate. He looked like David Niven in a pilot's uniform—he looked unruffled. His uniform was sharp."

Yes, I was in uniform, but wearing a hat is now optional for pilots at my airline. It hasn't been required for years, and I'm not big on wearing the hat. In fact, on January 15, my hat was at home in my bedroom closet in California. I also would argue with the dapper David Niven reference. I was actually feeling wet, rumpled, and a bit shell-shocked. (I did appreciate the comparison to David Niven, however, especially given his World War II service during the invasion of Normandy.)

Because of the great interest from journalists— the week after the flight, we were getting 350 media requests a day—I eventually agreed to do a few interviews. I wasn't especially comfortable on TV. I'm still not. It doesn't feel natural to me. But I feel I've gotten the hang of it now.

As things turned out, despite my initial unease before the cameras, I've done OK. There are a great many things I don't know, but there are things I'm pretty sure about, including a lot of issues related to aviation. Most of what the media have asked me about are things I know, so I didn't feel constantly stumped.

I also decided early on that I shouldn't obsess or worry about the media, because they're asking me about me, and of course, I know more about me than anyone else. I was rarely asked questions that were especially technical, and I made a point not to use too much jargon.

Many publications asked to conduct the first print interview with me, and rather than choose between, say, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and the New York Times, I decided it would be fun if I just went with the Wildcat Tribune, That's the student newspaper at Dougherty Valley High School, which Kate attends. Jega Vigneshwaran, a sophomore and the front-page editor, did the interview. He was prepared. He was sharp. He asked great questions. And he didn't make me nervous.

I also liked the idea of appearing in a newspaper that Kate actually reads. If I showed up in the Wildcat Tribune, maybe she would even think I was kinda cool.

While in New York for some interviews, Lorrie, the girls, and I took a break and went to see South Pacific at Lincoln Center. As we sat in the audience during the curtain call, the female lead, Kelli O'Hara, spoke about Flight 1549 and mentioned that I was in the audience. The spotlight focused on the four of us, and we then received a ninety-second standing ovation from our fellow theatergoers, which left Lorrie in tears. It was a graphic illustration to her of the enormity of the story of Flight 1549.

She was most moved because she sensed that they weren't just standing for me and for the crew. As she saw it, they rose for that ovation because the success of Flight 1549 had given them a positive sense of life's possibilities, especially in tough times.

People had been losing their jobs in large numbers. Home foreclosures were up. Life savings had been decimated. A lot of people felt like they had been hit by a double bird strike in their own lives. But Flight 1549 had shown people that there are always further actions you can take. There are ways out of the tightest spots. We as individuals, and as a society, can find them.

So at that performance of South Pacific, Lorrie thought the audience was standing as a tribute not to Flight 1549, but to what it represented. It represented hope.

I waved at the crowd while Lorrie dabbed at her eyes. Then I hugged her and waved again.

Not long after the Hudson landing, Jeff, Doreen, Donna, Sheila, and I met with dozens of Flight 1549 passengers and their families at a reunion in Charlotte. It was, as you can imagine, a day filled with great emotion for all who were there—the crew, the passengers, and the family members who accompanied them. "Thank you for not making me a widow," one woman told me. 

Another said: "Thank you for allowing my three-year-old son to have a father."

And a young woman who had been on the plane came up to me and said, "Now I get to have children."

Some passengers took the time to introduce me to everyone they had brought with them. "This is my mother, this is my father, this is my brother, my sister..."

It went on like that for close to two hours.


"NOW  I  GET  TO  HAVE  CHILDREN"…….  Oh  my……just  put  yourself  into  the  shoes  of  this  young  lady…."Now  I  get  to  have  children"

The safest  way  by  far  to  travel  is  passenger  plane,  the  stats  shout  it  out.  BUT  if  a  plane  is  going  down,  usually  it  means  death  for  most  if  not  everyone.  SO  THIS  YOUNG  LADY  WAS  PROBABLY  SAYING, "THE  CHANCE  OF  SURVIVAL  IS  MIGHTY  LOW,  IF  ANY;  LOOKS  LIKE  MY  LIFE  IS  GOING  TO  BE  OVER….AND  I'LL  NEVER  DO……"