Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger
Hero of the Hudson
Minutes after takeoff, both engines of US Airways Flight 1549 went dead, and Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the commanding pilot, knew he had just moments to save the 155 people aboard.
The plane had hit a large flock of birds, and Capt. Sully determined that returning to New York’s La Guardia Airport was impossible. As the towers of the city loomed, there was only one option--landing in the Hudson River. Six minutes after takeoff, all aboard were rescued, with only five serious injuries. Capt. Sully waded through the flooded cabin to check for stragglers and collect the maintenance book. He was the last to exit the sinking plane.
Sully found himself hailed as a savior--a title he continues to shun with typical selflessness. "I was just doing my job," he said to grateful survivors and their families hours after the rescue.
Capt. Sullenberger, 58, is nominated as one of Beliefnet's Most Inspiring People of the Year for his display of grace under pressure and devotion to duty.
Those who know him say a lifetime of preparation gave him steadiness under fire. "He was cool because he had all this experience," said Jeff Zaslow, who co-wrote Sully's memoir, "Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters." "He knew the most important thing he could do was make the right decision early on, and he made it...He is very smart and he has a good heart , and I think it all came together that day."
After the crash, Sully told Congress how airline industry cuts affected safety. He said his pay was cut 40 percent, and after 30 years of service he had lost his pension. He lamented that today's pilot salaries could not attract the best candidates.
Since the landing, Sully has been lauded by everyone from presidents to his hometown fire department in Danville, Calif. And he still deflects much of the adulation that comes his way. "What is it about this event that has made people feel the way they do about the event, about themselves, and about me?" Sully has asked. "I think the answer has to be that something about this gave people hope. It reassured them that good could still happen in the world. It was life-affirming."
Kimberly Winston is a freelance writer and frequent Beliefnet contributor living in California. Her most recent book is 'Fabric of Faith.'