Hero: Sully Sullenberger
The Flight of a Hero
The Flight of a Hero
Who is to say what defines a hero? Christopher Reeves may have said it best with his description of what a hero truly is; “A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.” While Reeves’ statement seems to hold true, modern society tends to set a higher bar for the criteria of a true hero. Sometimes the standards of a true hero seem to be insurmountable due to the compelling fantasy that fictional heroes hold to the public perspective. So who is a hero? Clearly Batman and Superman would be a first choice, but as we put fictional characters aside, who truly meets realistic standards? Some may reply by suggesting the president of the United States, or even Nelson Mandela. While both are impressive choices, I decided to bring the criteria closer to home when answering this question. An average person facing the battles of everyday life and economic woes amongst the rest of us, Captain Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger chose to act selflessly and without fear of consequence to save the lives of 155 people on January 15th, 2009.
On January 23, 1951 a hero was born. Though it was not known at the time, Sully’s legacy was in the making. Born the son of a dentist, Sully knew by age five that he wanted to be a pilot. His childhood hero was the great Charles Lindbergh. This was not because of Lindbergh’s luck, but because he chose to plan, prepare and endure as a pilot. In 1962, at eleven years old Sully took his first flight with his mother to a PTA convention in Austin, Texas. This flight reassured him of his lifelong dream of becoming a pilot. At age 16 Sully began pilot lesson with dusting pilot L.T. Cook Jr. Sully worked as a janitor in a local church to help pay his portion of $1.50 for lessons. On April 3rd, 1967 sully logged his first flight which was a tandem ride with Mr. Cook. He credits much of his passion for flying to the good teachings and confidence that Mr. Cook instilled in him. After his FAA exam in October of 1968 Sully was allowed his first passenger ride. With his proud mother at his side Sully took off on his own for that special flight. He later became a pilot for US Airways. As he made the sky his limit, his dreams of becoming a pilot had finally been reached. Today Sully is happily married to Lorrie Sullenberger and has two adopted daughters, Katie and Kelly with whom he has shared his journey of life and heroism beside. ( ‘Highest Duty’,S. Sullenberger 2009). His practice, lessons and accomplishments would later be tested on that frigid day in January, 2009.
On January 15th, 2009 at 3:25 p.m. US Airways flight 1549 was cleared to depart from La Guardia and bound for Charlotte, North Carolina. For Sully this was a day like any other. With 20,000 hours of flight time under his belt he felt no need to worry. The 150 passengers and crew of five felt the same. Some seconds after 3:27p.m. a flock of geese flew into the aircraft and both engines, causing them to fail. Sully immediately stated “My aircraft” and took control of the plane as pilot in command. Calmly and concentrated he radioed into La Guardia and informed them that the aircraft had been hit by geese and would need to perform an emergency landing. Flight control attempted to direct Sully back to several different runways. All of which Sully responded “We’re unable. We may end up in the Hudson.” Flight control responded with a possible landing at Teterboro to which Sully ended the conversation by informing control “We’re going to be in the Hudson.” Sully announced to passengers and crew to brace for impact. Nose up, belly down he gracefully landed the Airbus in the Hudson river. From bird strike to ditching the plane three and a half minutes had elapsed. These three minutes changed Sully’s life forever. With the fuel tanks acting as flotation devices the passengers and crew evacuated calmly onto the life boats and the wings of the plane, women and children first. Sullenberger walked twice more through the cabin to make sure it was empty and exited the plane last (Vanity Fair, 2009).
One year after the incident on March 3, 2010 Sully Sullenberger retired as a pilot. He and his crew received the passage of congressional resolution recognizing their bravery. To date Sully has written two books and is currently co-chairman of EAA young Eagles, a program dedicated to inspire and educate youths about aviation. A member of the Greenlight Group as well, Sully has dedicated his life to teaching safety and awareness through his expertise on the subjects (http://sullysullenberger.com/#/about).
Sully has inspired people all over the world. Since the incident he has received tens of thousands of letters from people from every continent showing their gratification for his actions and and relaying the inspiration he has instilled in so many. “It happened at a time in the world’s history when people needed good news,” Sullenberger told NPR’s Scott Simon (www.npr.org). Through all the fame and recognition Sully has remained humble and credits much of that day to the bravery of his crew and the passengers as well. The stress of the instant stardom has taken its toll on his family as well but through it all they have remained strong. Lorrie Sullenberger told Ladies Home Journal (2012): “Sully has always been my closest friend and our marriage was strong.”
Sully managed to give hope to people in a time where hope seemed like a flickering candle in a strong wind. By selflessly, and without thinking of consequence, risking his life to save the lives of 155 others, he has become a true hero. No one asked him to take action like he did that day on January 15th, 2009. He set aside his fears and pride and did what he had to do protect the strangers aboard Flight 1549. Sully did not ask for fame or recognition for his brave actions. He simply made a choice to live that day. During a time when the world seemed dark Sully Sullenberger managed to shed a light for people to follow and became a true hero.
C. Sullenberger (2009). Highest Duty
C.S. Sullenberger (2009).Retrieved from http://sullysullenberger.com/#/about).
Lorrie Sullenberger as told by Kenneth Miller (2012). Ladies Home Journal
W. Langewiesche (2009). Anatomy of a Miracle, Vanity Fair. Retrieved from www.VanityFair.com
(2012) Retrieved from www.npr.org.