Sully Flies AgainOctober 1, 2009 - 6:44 PM | by: Rick Leventhal
At least a dozen satellite and microwave TV trucks lined the curb outside the USAir Terminal at LaGuardia Airport in New York. Protective plastic covers were used to hide the cables running across the cab lanes into the baggage claim area where a podium and large canvas background were set up, along with risers for two rows of video cameras. A large crowd gathered and some even applauded when Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and his Co-Pilot Jeff Skiles approached the podium, surrounded by USAir executives and media representatives.
Captain Sully was returning to the skies, hoping to complete the trip he and Skiles started on January 15th before a double bird strike took out both engines and Sully had to ditch the Airbus A320 in the Hudson River, a perfect splashdown that allowed all 155 on board to survive.
“It’s good to be back in New York” the Captain began. ”It’s good to be back at work.”
“There was something about this event that captured the imagination of people around the world…” the Captain said. ”Good could still be done. We knew we had an intense obligation to do as much good as we could in as many ways as we could for as long as we could.”
Sullenberger admitted he’d be flying less and spending more time working on safety issues, describing the past eight months as the busiest of his long and accomplished career, but said it was important to be in the cockpit and to have Skiles with him.
“I’ll be on the flight with you to Charlotte” I mentioned during the news conference. ”What are the odds of another double bird strike?”
“Astronomical” he said with a wry smile.
There were roughly two dozen members of the media on the plane, along with regular passengers and some rather unusual ones: four people who were on flight 1549 back in January and wanted to be on Sully and Skiles return to flight again today.
Barry Leonard sat in seat 1C both trips. He says he’s flown 75 times since the splashdown in the Hudson and had issues every single time, feeling nervous and anxious and uncomfortable. ”I haven’t been able to sleep on any of those flights” he said, “and i’m hoping I can sleep today.” He says this trip means “coming full circle”, that this was “cathartic, therapeutic, and part of the healing process.”
When everyone was seated and the door closed and the plane began taxiing and the Captain came on and introduced himself, as they always do, the plane broke out into applause, which almost never happens, except when Sully is in the cockpit. This was actually his fourth flight since January and he says the applause and cheers are now routine. ”I’ve learned to pause before continuing with my speech” he said later.
The takeoff was on-time and smooth with no birds in sight. The flight proceeded without incident on to Charlotte and when the jet touched down, there was more applause and later, handshakes and photos with passengers and ground crews and bus drivers. It seemed almost everyone who could take a picture with Sully did so.
Later, at a post flight news conference, he admitted he enjoyed the rock star treatment but was trying not to let it go to his head.
He also said two things stood out amongst all the wonderful experiences he’s had this year.
First was “the thanks I got from passengers on the plane January 15th and next, the words of our peers who said they were proud of us, thanking us for helping to restore respect and appreciation for our profession.”
Then he posed for more pictures before heading off with the same group of executives he arrived with.