Five years ago today, Chelsey B. "Sully" Sullenberger performed the "miracle on the Hudson." On Jan. 15, 2009, Sullenberger successfully landed his crippled U.S. Airways aircraft in the frigid Hudson River just minutes after takeoff from LaGuardia airport.
Reflecting back, we were all impressed by his heroic composure and demeanor. We were struck by the deep concern with he expressed over the health and wellbeing of the passengers and flight crew, a concern which propelled him to search the entire airplane cabin twice after its evacuation, to ensure that no one remained on board. He did so despite the fact that the rear of the plane was rapidly filling with water. Sullenberger also repeatedly contacted authorities that day until he was able to confirm that all of the passengers were accounted for and safe.
Each act alone would have been sufficient to garner our collective respect and admiration. But there was something else about the pilot that I had found to be quite impressive. In the aftermath of the ordeal, Sullenberger signed a lucrative book deal with HarperCollins (later entitled Highest Duty) to detail his life story, as well as to record his version of that fateful winter morning. Based on his relatively advanced age (58), newfound wealth and notoriety, not to mention the jarring trauma associated with his emergency landing, I had expected Sullenberger to retire from active flying. After all, he has accomplished everything that there is to achieve in aviation, including a number of years of flying in the Air Force. He was slated for a comfortable retirement and with numerous engagements on the speaking circuit awaiting.
However, he returned to his post later that year, choosing company service over self-service. Clearly, in Sully's world, there was more to flying than simply an opportunity to generate an income for his family. To him, flying is a means of serving others, of being part of something that is larger than himself. In his mind, he was simply doing his job that morning, nothing more. For him to give up his passion because of one moment of glory would undermine everything that he had worked towards until that moment.
In our cheapened era of self-serving entertainers, corrupt politicians and dishonest CEOs, it is comforting to know that people with Chelsey Sullenberger's combination of courage, care and selflessness still exist. Not only did he manage to save all 155 passengers and crew that winter morning, but he taught our entire nation a message of faithful service that extends beyond our bottom lines.