• Chesley Sullenberger, the captain behind the Hudson river miracle

If we mention the emergency landing on the Hudson River and Captain Chesley Sullenberger «Sully», you’re likely to recall one of aviation history’s most remarkable miracles.

This article aims to introduce you to «Sully», the US Airways pilot who saved 155 lives on 15 January 2009. Shall we dive in?

Who is Chesley Sullenberger?

As previously mentioned, Chesley Sullenberger, also called «Sully», was a captain for US Airways. On flight 1549, he made a critical decision that saved the lives of 155 passengers. But who is Chesley Sullenberger really?

The life and career of Captain «Sully»

Chesley Sullenberger was born in a small Texan town in 1951. Like many iconic pilots, he showed a profound passion for aviation from a young age. This passion led him to join the United States Air Force, where he completed his flight training.

Sullenberger stood out for his flying skills, even earning an award as an exceptional cadet. Later on, «Sully» served in the United States Air Force for five years, piloting the F-4 Phantom bomber.

After serving on the Air Force’s accident investigation board, he began flying with US Airways. As you can see, his pilot experience was both undeniable and extensive.

What happened on US Airways Flight 1549?

So, what occurred on flight 1549? On 15 January 2009, the Airbus A320, piloted by Chesley Sullenberger and assisted by co-pilot Jeff Skiles, departed from LaGuardia Airport in New York. Minutes after takeoff, the plane struck a flock of geese, rendering both aeroplane engines inoperative.

What were their options? Either return to LaGuardia Airport or perform an emergency water landing. But less than a minute later, Sullenberger communicated the tower by radio a message that narrowed their options to one: There wasn’t enough time; they had to head for the Hudson River.

Chesley Sullenberger’s swift action

Despite the dire circumstances, Sullenberger remained calm and executed the water landing, saving the lives of all onboard the Airbus A320.

His decision, deemed miraculous by many, showcased the skill and bravery of both the pilot and co-pilot, and their commitment to passenger safety.

Notably, Chesley did not leave the aircraft until ensuring all passengers were evacuated. Within an hour, all passengers were safely on land, and although some suffered from hypothermia, they were alive.

How was Sullenberger’s life after the miracle?

Understandably, following the incident, Chesley Sullenberger and the crew of flight 1549 received numerous tributes and recognitions. Even the newly inaugurated President Barack Obama invited them to his inauguration.

Despite the fame, Sullenberger found himself under investigation for his actions during the incident. Both he and the co-pilot had to demonstrate to the National Transportation Safety Board that their decision was the correct one.

Investigating the Hudson River incident

Like all air incidents, an investigation into the forced landing on the Hudson was conducted. This investigation focused on evaluating Sullenberger’s decisions as well as the circumstances leading to the engine failure.

Several questions were raised: Did both turbines indeed fail? Was the water landing the only option? Could they have returned to an airport?

Chesley found the judicial process stressful and later expressed discomfort with being labelled a «hero». However, as expected, the black box recordings and the aircraft’s remains corroborated Chesley Sullenberger and his co-pilot’s decision: The water landing was the only viable option.

  • Sully, the movie about Chesley Sullenberger's history

«Sully», a film tribute to Sullenberger

Sullenberger’s feat warranted more than just an aviation anecdote or milestone; it inspired a film. Starring Tom Hanks, «Sully» ranks among the best aviation movies in recent years.

The film not only recounts the Hudson miracle but also delves into the investigation and personal trials Chesley Sullenberger faced post-incident. It serves as a reminder that miracles do happen.

Where is Captain Sullenberger now?

Following the Hudson River miracle, Chesley Sullenberger stepped away from commercial aviation and now resides in California with his loved ones. His retirement has been anything but idle: Up until 2022, he served as the United States’ envoy to the International Civil Aviation Organization’s Council.

In addition to his role as an envoy, Chesley has been active in delivering lectures on air safety and has authored several books in 2013 and 2016. He also supported Joe Biden’s election campaign and is quite engaged on social media platforms, advocating for unity and collaborative efforts within American society.

  • Chesley Sullenberger, the pilot who saved 155 lives on 15th january, 2009 at Hudson River

Chesley Sullenberger, the reluctant hero’s story

Isn’t it astonishing? The story of Chesley Sullenberger, «Sully», stands as a testament to courage and a passion for aviation safety. His legacy transcends the Hudson miracle, embodying preparation, teamwork, and leadership in an emergency.

Though the captain of that A320 never sought heroism, his decisions and actions have secured his place in aviation history as a safety icon.

Enjoyed his story? Our aviation blog features tales of great pilots who, like Sullenberger, are industry benchmarks, such as Frank Whittle, who invented the jet engine, or Juan de la Cierva, the responsible for the gyroplane. We look forward to welcoming you!

You may be interested…