Chesley Sullenberger

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Chesley Sullenberger
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Sullenberger in January 2009
Full name Chesley Burnett Sullenberger III
Born (1951-01-23) January 23, 1951 (age 65)
Denison, Texas, United States
Spouse Lorraine "Lorrie" Sullenberger
Aviation career
Known for Captain of US Airways Flight 1549, which he successfully landed on the Hudson River.
Famous flights US Airways Flight 1549
Air force United States Air Force
Rank Captain
Awards Time magazine's "100 Most Influential Heroes and Icons" (2009),
Master's Medal from the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators,
Key to the City from the City of New York,
Outstanding Cadet in Airmanship and Jabara Award for Airmanship from the United States Air Force Academy
Chris Matthews' The Hardball Award
Officier of the Légion d'honneur

Chesley Burnett "Sully" Sullenberger III (born January 23, 1951)[1] is an American retired airline captain who works as an aviation safety consultant. He was hailed as a national hero in the United States when he successfully executed an emergency water landing of US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River off Manhattan, New York City, on January 15, 2009, after the aircraft was disabled by striking a flock of Canada geese during its initial climb out of LaGuardia Airport. All of the 155 passengers and crew aboard the aircraft survived.

Sullenberger is an international speaker on airline safety[2] and has helped develop new protocols for airline safety. He served as the co-chairman, along with First Officer Jeffrey Skiles, of the EAA's Young Eagles youth introduction-to-aviation program from 2009 to 2013.[3] He retired from US Airways after 30 years as a commercial pilot on March 3, 2010.[4] In May of the following year, Sullenberger was hired by CBS News as an Aviation and Safety Expert.[5]

He is the co-author, with Jeffrey Zaslow, of the New York Times best-seller Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters, a memoir of his life and of the events surrounding Flight 1549, published in 2009 by HarperCollins. His second book, Making a Difference: Stories of Vision and Courage from America's Leaders, was published in May 2012. He was ranked second in Time's "Top 100 Most Influential Heroes and Icons of 2009", coming in second place to Michelle Obama.[6]

Early life[edit]

Sullenberger was born in Denison, Texas, the son of Marjorie Pauline (Hanna), an elementary school teacher, and Chesley Burnett Sullenberger, a dentist.[7] His father was a descendant of Swiss-German immigrants named Sollenberger.[8] He has one sister, Mary Wilson. The street on which he grew up in Denison was named after his mother's family, the Hannas. According to his sister, Sullenberger built model planes and aircraft carriers during his childhood, and says he became interested in flying after seeing military jets from an Air Force base near his house.[9] He went to school in Denison, and was consistently on the 99th centile in every academic category.[10] At the age of 12, his IQ was deemed high enough to join Mensa International.[10] In high school, he was the president of the Latin club,[11] a first chair flautist,[11] and an honor student.[11] His high school friends have said that Sullenberger developed a passion for flying from watching jets based out of Perrin Air Force Base.[9] He was an active member of the Waples Memorial United Methodist Church in Denison,[12] and graduated from Denison High School in 1969,[11] near the top of his class of about 350.[9] At 16, Sullenberger learned to fly in an Aeronca 7DC from a private airstrip near his home. He said the training he received from a local flight instructor set the base for his aviation career for the rest of his life.

In addition to his Bachelor of Science from the U.S. Air Force Academy, Sullenberger also holds a Master's degree in Industrial Psychology from Purdue University and a master's degree in Public Administration from the University of Northern Colorado.[13]

Military service[edit]

Sullenberger's 1973 Air Force Academy senior class photo

Sullenberger was appointed to the United States Air Force Academy, entering with the Class of 1973 in June 1969. He was selected along with around a dozen other freshmen for a cadet glider program, and by the end of that year, he was an instructor pilot.[9] In the year of his graduation, 1973, he received the Outstanding Cadet in Airmanship award, as the class "top flyer". Following graduation with a Bachelor of Science and his commissioning as an officer, the Air Force immediately sent Sullenberger to Purdue University to pursue a master's degree prior to entering Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT).[14]

Following completion of his graduate degree at Purdue, he was assigned to UPT at Columbus AFB, Mississippi, flying the T-37 Tweet and T-38 Talon. After earning his wings in 1975 as a USAF Pilot, he completed replacement training in the F-4 Phantom II at Luke AFB, Arizona. This was followed by his assignment to the 493d Tactical Fighter Squadron of 48th Tactical Fighter Wing at RAF Lakenheath, United Kingdom, where he flew as a United States Air Force fighter pilot[15] in the F-4D Phantom II. Following his assignment at RAF Lakenheath, he was reassigned to the 428th Tactical Fighter Squadron of the 474th Tactical Fighter Wing at Nellis AFB, Nevada, again flying the F-4D.[16][17] He advanced to become a flight leader and a training officer, and attained the rank of captain,[13] with experience in Europe, the Pacific, and at Nellis Air Force Base, as well as operating as Blue Force Mission Commander in Red Flag Exercises.[17] While in the Air Force, he was a member of an aircraft accident investigation board.[18]

Civil aviation career[edit]

Sullenberger was employed by US Airways and its predecessor airlines from 1980 until 2010.[4][19][20] (Pacific Southwest Airlines was acquired by US Air, later US Airways, in 1988.) He holds an Airline Transport Pilot Certificate for single and multi-engine airplanes, and a Commercial Pilot Certificate rating in gliders, as well as a flight instructor certificate for airplanes (single, multi-engine, and instrument), and gliders.[21] In total, he has more than 40 years and 20,000 hours of flying experience. In 2007[13] he became the founder and CEO of Safety Reliability Methods, Inc. (SRM), a firm providing strategic and tactical guidance to enhance organizational safety, performance, and reliability.[22] He has also been involved in a number of accident investigations conducted by the USAF and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), such as Pacific Southwest Airlines Flight 1771 and USAir Flight 1493.[23] He served as an instructor, Air Line Pilots Association Local Air Safety Chairman, accident investigator, and national technical committee member.[15][24] His safety work for ALPA led to the development of a Federal Aviation Administration Advisory Circular.[17] He was instrumental in developing and implementing the Crew Resource Management course that is used by US Airways, and he has taught the course to hundreds of airline crew members.[17][25]

Working with NASA scientists, he coauthored a paper on error-inducing contexts in aviation.[17] He was an air accident investigator for an NTSB inquiry into a major accident at Los Angeles International Airport, which "led to improved airline procedures and training for emergency evacuations of aircraft".[18] Sullenberger has also been studying the psychology behind keeping an airline crew functioning during a crisis.[26]

Sullenberger was active with his union, serving as chairman of a safety committee within the Air Line Pilots Association.[27]

He was a featured speaker for two panels, one on aviation and one on patient safety in medicine, at the High Reliability Organizations (HRO) 2007 International Conference in Deauville, France, from May 29 to 31, 2007.[28]

Flight 1549[edit]

US Airways Flight 1549 afloat in the Hudson River.

On January 15, 2009, Sullenberger was pilot in command of an Airbus A320 from New York's LaGuardia Airport to Charlotte/Douglas International Airport in Charlotte, North Carolina. The flight was designated as US Airways Flight 1549 as well as United Airlines Flight 1919.[29] Shortly after taking off, Sullenberger reported to air traffic control that the plane had struck a large flock of birds, disabling both engines.[30] Several passengers saw the left engine on fire.[31] During communications with air traffic control, possibilities of either returning to LaGuardia airport or attempting to land at the Teterboro Airport in New Jersey were canvassed. However, Sullenberger quickly decided that he did not have the time, speed or altitude to make a safe landing at an airport, and that ditching onto the Hudson River was the only option.[32] Sullenberger informed the passengers to "brace for impact," then piloted the plane to a water landing on the Hudson River at about 3:31 p.m. All passengers and crew members survived.[33] He later said, "It was very quiet as we worked, my co-pilot Jeff Skiles and I. We were a team. But to have zero thrust coming out of those engines was shocking—the silence."[34] Sullenberger was the last to leave the aircraft; he walked the dry area of the passenger cabin twice to ensure everyone had evacuated before retrieving the plane's maintenance logbook and sliding out of the plane. He then pressed for information on whether all 155 people aboard (150 passengers and five crew members) had made it out alive; it took several hours for him to learn that everyone aboard had indeed survived.[9][35]

Sullenberger, described by friends as "shy and reticent,"[36] has been noted for his poise and calm demeanor during the crisis. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, for example, dubbed him "Captain Cool."[37] However, Sullenberger acknowledged that he had suffered some symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for the first couple of weeks following the crash, including sleeplessness and flashbacks, though this condition had improved by the time of his late February 2009 interview with People.[38] In a CBS 60 Minutes interview, he was quoted as saying that the moments before the emergency water landing were "the worst sickening, pit-of-your-stomach, falling-through-the-floor feeling" that he had ever experienced.[39] Speaking with news anchor Katie Couric, Sullenberger said: "One way of looking at this might be that for 42 years, I've been making small, regular deposits in this bank of experience, education and training. And on January 15 the balance was sufficient so that I could make a very large withdrawal."[40]

Sullenberger testified in hearings before the National Transportation Safety Board, in which his actions during Flight 1549 were investigated amid arguments that he might have been able to return the plane to LaGuardia Airport rather than ditch it in the Hudson River. Sullenberger maintained that there was no time to execute the maneuver needed to return the plane to the airport, which if he had done it, would've killed all persons on the plane and more on the ground. The NTSB ultimately ruled that Sullenberger made the correct decision in ditching the plane.[41] The NTSB panel's reasoning was that the dual-engine failure checklist for the Airbus A320 addresses power loss at higher altitude, when pilots have more time to deal with the situation, and that while simulations showed that Flight 1549 could barely have made it back to LaGuardia, those scenarios would have required Sullenberger to make an immediate decision with little or no time to assess the situation.[42][43]

Post-flight accolades and publicity[edit]

U.S. President George W. Bush called Sullenberger to thank him for saving the lives of the passengers,[44] as did President-elect Barack Obama[45] who also invited him, as well as the entire crew, to join the presidential inauguration ceremony.[46] On January 16, 2009, the United States Senate passed a resolution to recognize and honor Sullenberger, Skiles, the cabin crew, the passengers, and the first responders involved in Flight 1549's emergency landing.[47] The United States House of Representatives passed a similar resolution of praise on January 26, 2009.[48]

Sullenberger attended the presidential inauguration on January 20, 2009, where he and his wife met President Obama.[38] On January 22, 2009, he and the rest of the crew of Flight 1549 were awarded a Masters Medal by the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators.[49] A ceremony for Sullenberger was held on January 24, 2009, in his hometown of Danville, California, where he was presented with awards including Danville's "Key to the Town",[36] and was named an honorary Danville police officer.[50]

San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District Chief Richard Price presented Captain Sullenberger with his district's highest award, the Medal of Valor,[51] which has been given only a few times in the district's history.[52] Sullenberger, Skiles, and Flight 1549's cabin crew, Doreen Welsh, Sheila Dail and Donna Dent, were honored with a standing ovation during the Super Bowl XLIII pre-game ceremony on February 1, 2009.[53] Sullenberger was awarded with honorary lifetime membership in The Seaplane Pilot's Association.[54][55] In 2009, Sullenberger was awarded the Founders' Medal by The Air League.[56] Admirers of Sullenberger also started a Facebook fan site that, as of late February 2009, had half a million members.[38]

A few weeks after the crash, it was revealed that Sullenberger had left a library book titled Just Culture: Balancing Safety and Accountability in his luggage in the cockpit. When Sullenberger telephoned the library to notify them that the water-damaged book had been recovered, it waived the usual late fees. New York City Mayor Bloomberg replaced the book when presenting Sullenberger with the Key to the City of New York.[57][58][59]

Sullenberger threw out the first pitch of the 2009 Major League Baseball season for the San Francisco Giants. His Giants' jersey was inscribed with the name "Sully" and the number 155—a reference to the 155 people aboard the plane.[60]

On June 6, 2009, Sullenberger returned to his childhood hometown of Denison, Texas, to participate in that town's D-Day celebration, and to give the commencement address for his alma mater, Denison High School, marking the 40th anniversary of his own graduation from the school.[61]

Sullenberger also made an appearance in St. Louis, Missouri, on July 14, 2009, to participate in the Red Carpet All-Star Parade that took place before the 2009 Major League Baseball All-Star Game.

Sullenberger testified before the U.S. House of Representatives's Subcommittee on Aviation of the Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure on February 24, 2009, that his salary had been cut by 40 percent, and that his pension, like most airline pensions, was terminated and replaced by a "PBGC" guarantee worth only pennies on the dollar.[62] Sullenberger cautioned that airlines were under "pressure to hire people with less experience. Their salaries are so low that people with greater experience will not take those jobs. We have some carriers that have hired some pilots with only a few hundred hours of experience. ... There’s simply no substitute for experience in terms of aviation safety."[63] Sullenberger also mentioned his pay cut in an October 13, 2009 appearance on The Daily Show.

In 2009, and again in 2015, Sullenberger filmed a TV commercial as a spokesman for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.[64]

Retirement and subsequent career[edit]

After 30 years service with US Airways and its predecessor, Sullenberger retired on March 3, 2010. His final flight was US Airways Flight Number 1167 from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to Charlotte, North Carolina, where he was reunited with his co-pilot Jeff Skiles and a half dozen of the passengers on Flight 1549.[63] Sullenberger said that his advocacy for aviation safety and the piloting profession would continue.[4]

On November 18, 2011, as part of a fund-raising effort, Sullenberger flew to the Carolinas Aviation Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina, where the aircraft he ditched onto the Hudson River is on exhibit, and he entered the plane for the first time since the incident.[65]

Chesley Sullenberger was selected as the 2010 Tournament of Roses Parade's Grand Marshal, an honor which was announced on Thursday, November 5, 2009, in Pasadena, California, at the Tournament House.[66]

Sullenberger at the LIONS World Convention 2010 in Sydney

In December 2010, Sullenberger was appointed an Officer of the Legion of Honour.[67][68]

Sullenberger's water landing was adapted for the 2016 film Sully. It is a memoir of his life of preparation for the challenge he faced during Flight 1549. Co-author Jeffrey Zaslow died on February 10, 2012, in an automobile crash while promoting a different book. Sullenberger delivered a eulogy at his memorial service on February 13.[69] Among the personal details Sullenberger discusses in the book are his father's December 1995 suicide, the Sullenbergers' battles with infertility, and adoption.[70][71]

Sullenberger wrote a second book about leadership titled Making a Difference: Stories of Vision and Courage from America's Leaders, which was released on May 15, 2012.

In May, 2011, CBS News hired Sullenberger as an aviation and safety expert.[5]

Sullenberger is also a speaker and is represented by The Harry Walker Agency per his personal website.

Personal life[edit]

Sullenberger is married to fitness instructor Lorraine "Lorrie" Sullenberger,[33] with whom he has two daughters,[18] Kate and Kelly.[72] The Sullenbergers reside in the San Francisco Bay Area.

On December 7, 1995, Sullenberger's father committed suicide by gunshot shortly after being released from the hospital for major surgery. He had been suffering from depression in the face of a long and difficult convalescence ahead of him. He left no note. As a result of this, Sullenberger became a suicide prevention activist, having promoted National Suicide Prevention Week and National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.[70][71]

In October 2009, it was reported that the Republican Party had approached Sullenberger about running for Jerry McNerney's seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Sullenberger's publicist said that Sullenberger had no desire to run for any public office.[73]

In popular culture[edit]

The song, "A Real Hero", by French electronica artist College, in collaboration with Electric Youth, released in 2010, is about Captain Chesley Sullenberger and the US Airways Flight 1549 water landing incident. Frontman Austin Garrick was inspired to write the song by a quote from his grandfather, who spoke of Sullenberger and the incident. Garrick's grandfather referred to Sullenberger as "a real human being and a real hero", which became the song's refrain.[74] The song grew to greater prominence after being featured in the 2011 film Drive, and was subsequently covered by the L.A. synth-based band Smallpools and released to critical acclaim in May 2015.

Humorist and radio personality Garrison Keillor wrote "Pilot Song: The Ballad of Chesley Sullenberger III" for the January 17, 2009 edition of the variety show A Prairie Home Companion.

Sullenberger's speech in Congress concerning U.S. civil aviation is presented in Michael Moore's 2009 documentary Capitalism: A Love Story. J Sullenberger is repeatedly referenced in the 2011 feature film romantic comedy Friends with Benefits. Throughout the film, Justin Timberlake's character repeatedly suggests to people he meets aboard planes that modern airplanes practically fly themselves, and that Sullenberger's feat is less impressive than it is portrayed to be, only to encounter incredulity and hostility for this idea. In addition, Mila Kunis' character is seen reading Sullenberger's English Wikipedia article.[75][76][77]

Sullenberger is featured in "Hudson River Runway", the March 14, 2011, episode of the TV series Mayday that documents the events of Flight 1549. Sullenberger himself is not among the real-life participants in the event who appears in on-camera interviews in the episode, but is portrayed in reenactments of the events by Chris Britton.[78]

A Law and Order: SVU episode references the event. The event is also referenced in an episode of House, MD.

An animated version of Sullenberger appeared in "The Unbrave One", the January 8, 2012, episode of the animated TV show American Dad![79] Sullenberger is referenced in "The Hero", the August 11, 2011, episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Matt Damon portrays an airline pilot in a story arc of the NBC comedy 30 Rock in episode 94 February 10th, 2011, in which he brags that a great pilot like himself does not land on the Hudson River but avoids hitting birds altogether.[80]

Sullenberger's memoir, Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters, was adapted into the 2016 feature film Sully, directed by Clint Eastwood,[81] and starring Tom Hanks as Sullenberger.[82]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]