|Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger|
NEW YORK — The word, “hero,” is thrown around a lot these days and often used to describe acts that may indeed be considered special in one way or another but fall short of being heroic. If anyone truly earned the right to be tagged with this honor, it’s Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger.
On Jan. 15, 2009, the former U.S. Airways pilot successfully landed (“ditched”) a powerless Airbus 320 into the Hudson River about three minutes after the aircraft hit a flock of Canada Geese causing its engines to fail, saving the lives of all 155 passengers and crew. NTSB board member Kitty Higgins called it “the most successful ditching in aviation history.” The name “Sully” will always be associated with Flight 1549 and the “Miracle on the Hudson.”
Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger was at the Standard Hotel in Manhattan Monday for his first public appearance as the new ambassador for Swiss luxury watch brand, Jeanrichard, as it introduced new models to its 1681 and Terrascope collections.
There is no new “Sully” timepiece. Not yet anyway. But it is being discussed. He will visit the Jeanrichard headquarters in Switzerland in April to see how the watches are constructed.
“The more I learn about these incredible devices, how elegant, how beautiful they are, the craftsmanship that’s involved it’s just amazing. The more I appreciate them,” he said.
|Bruno Grande, Jeanrichard COO, with Sullenberger.|
At 62 years of age Sullenberger looks every bit of what one would expect a pilot to be. Fit and trim, enthusiastic, personable and articulate; he speaks with passion, whether analytically discussing the details of Flight 1549 or expressing his “fascination with time,” which has evolved since the flight.
“It’s obviously one of our more precious commodities in each of our lives,” he said. “It’s even more apparent to me now than before the flight four years ago. I’ve always intellectually knew that, but until you experience such an extreme challenge it’s not as real to you and now I think I have a greater appreciation for how each of our lives could change, in an instant, completely forever and in a moment. We really never know when and if that’s going to happen.”
Time also serves an important task in his profession as a way to determine fuel usage.
“It’s a necessary concept in flying because at takeoff, unless you’re going to do aerial refueling in a military airplane, you have a finite supply of fuel that equates to a finite supply of time. So you have to make sure you complete the flight within those constraints with a reserve, with alternatives and contingencies in mind.
“One of the things that we always did in flying is to have this discipline and habits focused so we could anticipate and plan and never be surprised by anything. That’s what made this Hudson River situation so shocking. Unlike every other flight I ever had that we worked so hard to make routine, we were suddenly confronted with something we haven’t trained for. I knew that in the first seconds that my life would change forever.”
Sullenberger knew he wanted to be a pilot from the time he was child. As a Mensa member at the age of 12, he certainly had the intellect for it. He flew his first flight at the age of 16, was a decorated cadet in the U.S. Air Force Academy and served as a fighter pilot and trainer for the U.S. Air Force before joining US Air in 1980 (the predecessor to US Airways). He credits the training he received and his lifelong commitment to all aspects of his job, including the more mundane parts, to being able to make the proper decisions at a critical time.
|Jeanrichard 1681 timepiece|
“Everything in my life in some important way has been available to me to access enough in that incredible moment when I needed everything I knew to solve very quickly a problem I never seen before and never specifically trained for,” he said.
Bruno Grande, Jeanrichard chief operating officer, said it is this commitment to the ordinary details of his profession that matched the watch brand’s “Philosophy of Life” motto and the brand’s namesake, Daniel Jeanrichard, who assembled his first watch in 1681.
“He found passion in an ordinary job,” Grande said. “It’s a huge thing. You can be a baker, a simple job but at the same time have great passion. It doesn’t matter what the passion is, his passion is his job. And the passion of Jeanrichard is the fact that today, 2013, we are still here, talking about him.”
Sullenberger combines doses of humility with strong helpings of pride when he talks about the ill-fated, six-minute flight from LaGuardia Airport and how he and his crew responded.
“I certainly feel like everyone on the airplane and I went through an extraordinary situation and many people did their jobs extraordinarily well. They went well above the call of duty,” he said. “The fact we got so much, so right, so quickly under the adverse conditions is a testament to what we were able to accomplish.”
One of the most remarkable parts of the successful landing (as you may have noticed in his earlier statements) is that, with all the training he’s received, there was no guidance for a water landing. Nor was there a protocol for having a total shutdown of an aircraft so soon after taking off and being so close to the ground. This meant that Sullenberger’s knowledge, skill, judgment and experience became even more critical.
|Jeanrichard Terrascope with blue dial and rose gold details.|
“In our flight simulators it’s not possible to practice a water landing. The data didn’t exist on our program for it. Believe it or not the only training we’ve ever gotten for a water landing is a theoretical classroom discussion,” he said. “Even in the most extreme demanding flights, their training scenarios never had everything going wrong at that so low of altitude with that little time to deal with it. It turned out that we only had 3 minutes and 28 seconds from the time we the hit the birds and lost thrust till we landed. It was just incredibly quick. So I had to very quickly assess what just happened; begin to take the immediate, corrective actions; search for a place to land; rule out the ones I didn’t have enough altitude to reach; and then settle on the one that I did. It was the river. That was the only place we could go that was smooth enough, strong enough, wide enough to try to land on.”
Most everyone credits Sullenberger’s decision to raise the nose of the aircraft right before the water landing as the most crucial factor to saving the lives on the plane. He said since there was no thrust he had to fight gravity in order to land, which meant he was coming in at a much faster speed and a steeper angle than normal. This is where his training came into play.
“It was like a normal landing on steroids because without engine thrust to moderate (the aircraft's speed), to make a shallower approach to the runway, we were using gravity to provide the forward motion of the airplane and we were coming down much more steeply, much more rapidly than a normal landing—two stories per second,” he said.
“I had to very precisely judge, within a fraction of a second the height at which to begin raising the nose so that I didn’t either get the nose too high a height to drop it in or wait too long and hit nose first. I had to judge the height just so that I was able to stop the descent as much as I could and get the nose up just as we touched the water. And of course over a featureless water terrain depth perception was very difficult. So it was a difficult thing to do and some.
Then he adds: “I never made a water landing before.”
He says he doesn’t consider himself to be a hero but he understands that the story of the landing has touched the lives of a lot of people.
“I don’t call myself a hero but I certainly understand how people feel about this, how this flight makes them feel, still touches and inspires people, even those who weren’t directly associated with it.
“It’s what I call the enduring power of this story.”
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