Hero of the Week: Captain Chesley Sullenberger
My heart dropped when the “breaking news” chime on my computer went off. The headline read “Airliner Crashes Into Hudson River.” If I was amazed after the seeing the headline, it was nothing compared to the first sentence – none dead, only a few passengers and crew injured, and they were already on their way to the hospital. How on Earth was this possible? I thought shaking my head. An airplane crash-landed onto the river in New York City proper and everyone is okay?
That doesn’t happen on accident.
The AP said the tale of US Airways flight 1549 was one “of luck and heroism,” you can take the luck away from this story. The men and women on that flight owe their lives to Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and his amazing crew aboard the airplane that day.
As the story continues to get discussed, people continue to focus on the luck involved. Yes, they say that Sullenberger’s actions were heroic, but there is a sentiment that that it was really the luck that saved the day – that this was a one in a million type of thing. The guys at Ranger Up and most of you out there aren’t big believers in luck, because Lady Luck, my friends, favors the well-prepared. Whenever someone mentions that the situation was lucky, please tell them to dig a little deeper into this story and learn about the man who saved the lives of 150 people that day. We’d argue that the only luck involved here was that Captain Sullenberger was the man behind the controls.
Well before Captain Sullenberger sat down in that ill-fated cockpit on 15 January, he had graduated at the top of his aviator class at the Air Force Academy. He flew F-4’s before moving on to fly for US Airways, which he’d done for 29 years prior to that day. In that long and decorated career he devoted himself to becoming a subject matter expert in all facets of his job, mastering such skills as glider landings. He devoted himself to studying how pilots and crews react in moments of crisis. He put the hours in the simulators. He stayed at the cutting edge of training. He knew what was at stake if he should ever fail. Long before he ever found himself in the middle of a crisis, he’d spent years preparing for such an event.
Then the day came.
With perfect poise he put his wealth of training to use and executed a flawless emergency glider landing. He was so in control of the situation that he had the presence of mind to land the plane in the section of the river that would facilitate the easiest transport of the passengers and crew to hospitals and treatment centers. Once the plane hit the water, the crew got everyone off the crippled aircraft like a well-oiled machine. Smoothly and carefully the doors were opened, the boats were deployed and the passengers exited from the plane. Finally, after everyone was off the plane Captain Sullenburger walked up and down aisle, twice, just to be sure no one was left on board.
That is not lucky. Nor is it a miracle or any of the number of things people are trying to make it out to be. It was the culmination of decisive actions by a leader refusing to fail at his mission. It was what happens when a person spends his or her life always striving to get better and refusing to compromise. It was heroic. Everyone at Ranger Up has been more and more amazed by Captain Sullenberger the more we find out about him. Not just by his actions last week, but also by the lifetime of vigilance he exhibited – by the hours he’s spent getting ready, just in case. He never let his guard down.
Captain Sullenberger is the manifestation of the thing that all great NCOs and sports coaches have been telling us since as early as we can remember – the game isn’t won on game day – but on the practice field.
Thank you, Sir. Not only for keeping all those people on the plane and in the city safe, but for caring enough about the people under your command to prepare for the worst. You knew the day might come, and when it did, you stood ready.