The Hero of Flight 1549 From North Texas

The Miracle on the Hudson could have very well been The Tragedy on the Hudson had it not been for the hero pilot known as “Sully,” who learned to fly right here in North Texas.

Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger III, now of Danville, Calif., hails from Denison, where he earned his pilot's license his junior year in high school.

His sister, Mary Wilson, said it was a little odd to see her big brother on TV in her Dallas living room.

"I've watched so much TV -- I can't tell you how much TV -- because I want to see it," she said. "I want to see them talk about him and say he's a hero."

In less than 24 hours, she's fielded calls from local radio and TV stations, as well as the New York Times and Inside Edition.

Wilson said the past three generations of Sullenbergers were born in Denison.

Sullenberger graduated from Denison High School in 1969 and then went on to the Air Force Academy.

Wilson said her brother has flown everything with wings, from single engine planes to F-4 fighter jets. He even flew a glider without an engine, she said.

"For 40 years, he's flown planes. He's read about them, he's studied about them, he's done everything a pilot can do to be ready," she said.

Old friends remember him as they kind of man who would perform the miraculous actions he did on Thursday and think nothing of it.

"I'm not surprised that he would be able to have the skills that it takes to do that," Kathy Coulter of Denison, who graduated in 1969 and also taught with Sullenberger's mother, said in a story for Friday's editions of the Sherman Herald Democrat.

Denison Mayor Robert Brady remembered "Bernie" as one of the "smart kids" who got his pilot's license at 14.

Survivors, eyewitnesses, rescuers and experts alike all hailed the expertise, bravery and cool of Sullenberger, a hero whose calm saved 155 people, including a little baby, from an icy and fiery death.
A former Air Force fighter pilot who worked for US Airways since 1980, Sullenberger gently touched down the Airbus 320 on the icy Hudson waters, miraculously delivering all onboard to safety.

"We've had a miracle on 34th Street,” Gov. David Paterson said. “Now I believe we've had a miracle on the Hudson.”

“The first and most important thing is that the pilot did a wonderful job,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg, noting that Sullenberger not only successfully piloted the plane but walked the aisles twice to make sure that every passenger had been rescued. 

He "did a masterful job of landing the plane in the river and then making sure that everybody got out," Bloomberg said.

The lucky survivors hailed his steady hand and cool head.

"You gotta give it to the pilot; he made a helluva landing," Jeff Kolodjay told WNBC. "He did a good job. We hit the water pretty hard, but I’m fine."

So steady was the hand of Sullenberger, that all along the bank of the Hudson, eyewitnesses could not believe their eyes: A plane was flying impossibly low yet steady as can be. It was as if the pilot were approaching a runway, not the icy winter waters of Manhattan’s Hudson River.

"One of the best landings I've ever experienced," declared a passenger who escaped without injury.

Eyewitness after eyewitness echoed the sentiment.

"I see a commercial airliner coming down, looking like it's landing right in the water," said Bob Read, who saw it from his office window. "This looked like a controlled descent."

Airline safety professionals called the move "ditching," and say it's one of the most difficult moves in an airplane.

"There's not a million pilots that could do this," Wilson said. "There's a small number. And he did it. He could of made some little mistake and he didn't, and I think that's fantastic."

After talking with Sullenberger on the phone, his wife Lorrie told the New York Post that she was "relieved" because the hero pilot is  "fine."

"He is the consummate pilot," Lorrie Sullenberger told the Post. "He is about performing that airplane to the exact precision to which it is made."

All the details were not known immediately as federal aviation officials probed the miracle landing. What was known was that Sullenberger reported a "double bird strike" less than a minute after takeoff Thursday and was headed for an emergency landing in New Jersey when he made a last-minute ditch into the Hudson.

He was climbing to 1,500 feet when he reported the bird strikes about 30 to 45 seconds after a normal takeoff from New York's LaGuardia Airport, National Air Traffic Controllers Association spokesman Doug Church said.

Sullenberger, who runs Safety Reliability Methods, a consulting firm, apparently meant that birds had hit both of the plane's jet engines. When he reported the bird strike, the pilot asked to return to the ground immediately.

The controller then issued instructions to turn the aircraft back to LaGuardia, according to Church's account,  when Sully, then over northern New Jersey, looked down, saw an airstrip and asked, "What airport is that?"

The controller replied: "That's Teterboro."

The suburban airport near Newark serves primarily commuter and private aviation.

The pilot said he wanted to land there.

The controller then gave instructions to divert the aircraft to Teterboro's Runway 1 for an emergency landing.

And that was the last transmission between the aircraft and traffic controllers.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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