January 20, 2012

Why I Celebrate Sully

Three years ago, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger guided his mortally wounded aircraft into the Hudson river. In the weeks after, he was regarded as a hero. In response to all the fanfare, he stated that he was simply doing his job, and that is the very reason I hold him in such high regard.

A routine flight from LaGuardia to Charlotte became extraordinary when it impacted geese, causing the flameout of both engines. Sully and his First Officer Jeffrey Skiles began the process of evaluating the situation that ended four minutes later with the ditching in the Hudson. The decisions made that afternoon were critical in the saving of all 155 lives on board.

Prior to evacuating himself, Sully made one last walk through the sinking aircraft to make certain that no one was left behind.

As Sully stated, he was just doing his job.

One week ago, the Costa Concordia suffered a similar fate, sinking in cold salt water during the month of January. The real difference between it and US Airways 1549 isn’t what kind of ship it was, but what kind of Captain piloted her.

The Captain, Francesco Schettino, disregarded the safety of his ship and its passengers for his own benefit. His actions resulted in the ship’s striking ground, and the subsequent loss of perhaps 35 lives. When the ship’s fate became apparent, he abandoned her.

It was his responsibility to keep the ship safe, and it was his responsibility to lead when the situation became critical. In every sense, he failed to do his job.

Sully will tell you, there are many pilots that could dead-stick an Airbus into the Hudson with similar results. And most pilots would have made the same decisions he made. What sets Sully apart is that he did his job, and to the highest level.

It took the actions of Captain Schettino this week to remind me why I hold Captain Chesley Sullenberger in such high regard.

NYCAviation Columnist David J. Williams is a former airline Captain and currently involved with aviation safety.

  • Madhava Verma Dantuluri