Captain 'Sully' Sullenberger On His Sudden Rise To Fame (VIDEO)

11/13/2013 09:41 am ET | Updated Nov 13, 2013

On Jan. 15, 2009, Captain Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger III, then an airline pilot for US Airways, saved 155 lives by landing his disabled plane on the Hudson River after a midair collision with a flock of geese. A national hero, Sully and his family were instantly pulled from their quiet, ordinary lives into a whirlwind of media attention. In the above video from "Oprah: Where Are They Now?" Sully and his wife, Lorrie, talk about what life is like now, nearly five years later.

"My family and I went from complete anonymity to worldwide recognition in an instant -- in spite of my best efforts to remind everyone that this was a team effort," Sully says in the above clip.

"We think of it two phases -- the event itself, which was traumatic and overwhelming, and then the immediate worldwide media attention, which was equally traumatic and overwhelming," he says.

The Sullenbergers were invited to events around the world, attending President Barack Obama's inauguration and visiting Buckingham Palace. "And it required each of us to rise to the occasion to stretch to grow to be able to be public figures," Sully says.

His wife, Lorrie, says it was hard to wrap her brain around the instant fame. "I was 'tennis team mom' one day -- bringing snacks, driving them to their away game -- and then literally the next day we had an event and we were flown there by private jet to this thing," she says.

Lorrie says she quickly realized that her family would need to learn how to balance the fame. "Early on, actually, there was some contention between us because I said 'This is going to kill us, I mean literally kill us,'" she says. "We can't do it all, I don't care who it is or what it is, we need to manage it better."

With no experience in handling public attention, the Sullenbergers say they turned to people in the public eye for advice -- and got some great tips from actor Harrison Ford. "He said when you’re in public and you need go someplace, walk purposefully," Sully says. "Don't look left or right, don't make unnecessary eye contact and walk like you have a place to go, and you'll be more likely to get there unscathed."

The Sullenbergers say they've received countless letters since the "miracle on the Hudson" -- 50,000 in the first month alone -- and Sully says the postmaster always makes sure they get delivered. "On occasion in the margin of the envelope, someone will have written, 'Dear postmaster, I don't know his address, but I'm sure you can find him, please forward,'" he says. "So we joked we received Santa Claus status so instead of coming to the North Pole, it comes to our home."

In the video below, "Oprah: Where Are They Now?" producers Jill Van Lokeren and Julie Simpson give a behind-the-scenes look at the episode on HuffPost Live. "He seems to have handled the sudden, instant fame the exact same way he handled those birds hitting the engine in the airplane," Simpson says. "He was calm, cool, collected and seems to have handled it all beautifully."

"Oprah: Where Are They Now?" airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on OWN.

Suggest a correction
Comments

CONVERSATIONS