US Airways Hero Sullenberger Details His Thoughts and Deeds

In an interview with Katie Couric aired on CBS's 60 Minutes Sunday night, US Airways Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger eloquently described his thoughts and emotions as the drama of Flight 1549 unfolded over New York City. He calmly related how he saw the flock of birds filling his windscreen, too late to take evasive action; then felt, heard and smelled the results of the multiple bird strikes that disabled both engines. He recounted his decision-making process-first the decision not to return to LaGuardia Airport because he was too low and slow to risk a steep turn. He then described how he considered Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, but eliminated that as an option, saying that the consequences of not making the runway would have been catastrophic, to all the occupants of the Airbus A320 and people on the ground. He told Couric, "Losing thrust on both engines, at a low speed, at a low altitude, over one of the most densely populated areas on the planet. Yes, I knew it was a very challenging situation." On his decision to land in the Hudson: "The only viable alternative, the only level smooth place sufficiently large to land an airliner was the river." Describing his concerns about making the water landing, he said, "I needed to touch down with the wings exactly level. I needed to touch down with the nose slightly up, I needed to touch down at a descent rate that was survivable. And I needed to touch down just above our minimum flying speed, but not below it." And finally, expressing the confidence based on a 42-year career as a military and airline pilot and accident investigator, Sullenberger told Couric, "I was sure I could do it. I think, in many ways, as it turned out, my entire life up to that moment had been a preparation to handle that particular moment." To read more about what we have to learn from Captain Sullenberger, read our editor's comments.

Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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