HeroVet: Chesley Sullenberger, Profiled in "Sully" Movie

Sully Sullenberger with Blue Angel Lt. Mark Tedrow

Editor's Note: On September 9, 2016, the Clint Eastwood-directed film “Sully” was released and stars Tom Hanks. It profiles the January 15, 2009 heroic landing of a US Airways plane in New York City’s Hudson River by military veteran and airline captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger. Soon after the emergency landing, Veterans Advantage profiled Sullenberger as a HeroVet below. 

Across the frigid waters of New York City’s treacherous Hudson River, one of the most remarkable feats of heroism in commercial aviation history occurred on January 15, 2009 – thanks to a former Air Force Fighter pilot.

US Airways pilot Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger III was widely credited by the 150 passengers and five crew members of Flight 1549, bound for Charlotte N.C. from LaGuardia Airport, for an extraordinary emergency landing on the river. Many have called it a miracle, a textbook landing on water where all of the passengers survived. Early reports say a flock of wild Canadian geese, common in this area surrounding New York’s airports, flew into the engines and caused a sudden failure in both of them within two minutes of takeoff. Sullenberger made a command decision to attempt a river landing, rather than risk flying to New Jersey’s Teterboro airport, his other option.

Sullenberger became an instant hero, earning accolades from those aboard the flight, from New York's mayor and governor, and from an online fan club.

Sullenberger's wife told CNN she hadn't been watching the news and was stunned to hear about the ordeal from her husband after it was all over.

"I've heard Sully say to people, 'It's rare for an airline pilot to have an incident in their career,'" Lorrie Sullenberger said. "When he called me he said, 'There's been an accident.' At first I thought it was something minor, but then he told me the circumstances and my body started shaking and I rushed to get our daughters out of school."

Sullenberger, who has flown for US Airways since 1980, flew F-4 fighter jets with the Air Force in the 1970s. He then served on a board that investigated aircraft accidents and participated later in several National Transportation Safety Board investigations.

"Well done, classmate!" said the Air Force Academy's superintendent, who graduated alongside Sullenberger. 

Lt. General John Regni graduated in 1973 alongside the pilot of the Airbus 320 which got hit by birds shortly after takeoff from LaGuardia Airport in New York.

In a statement issued the day after the event, Regni praised Sullenberger's aviation skills and character.

"He not only showcased unbelievable airmanship, but exemplary character as well," Regni said. 

"In addition to superb judgment under utmost pressure, by checking his aircraft twice to ensure there were no passengers left behind, he epitomized the 'Service Before Self' concept we strive to instill in our cadets." 

Regni said he did not know Sullenberger personally, but knew of him from their years together in Colorado Springs, according to an academy spokesman.

The year Sullenberger graduated he received the Outstanding Cadet and Airmanship Award for being the academy's number one aviation cadet, said Lt. Col. Brett Ashworth, an academy spokesman.

He earned a bachelor's degree in psychology and basic sciences in 1973 from the Air Force Academy and a master's degree in public administration in 1979 from the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley.

Sullenberger, who has flown for US Airways since 1980, flew F-4 fighter jets with the Air Force in the 1970s. He then served on a board that investigated aircraft accidents and participated later in several National Transportation Safety Board investigations.

Candace Andersen, a member of the Danville (California) Town Council who lives a few blocks from Sullenberger, said it was an amazing story and she was proud to live in the same town as the pilot.

"You look at his training, you look at his experience. It was just the right pilot at the right time in charge of that plane that saved so many lives," Anderson said. "He is a man who is calm, cool, collected, just as he was today."

Image Credit: http://www.sullysullenberger.com/photo-gallery/

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