Remembering a Story of Hope: It’s been a year since Chesley Sullenberger and his crew successfully ditched an A320 in the Hudson River due to damage from a bird strike during ascent from LaGuardia. The crew, and especially Captain “Sully,” has been lionized for their cool under pressure that day, and certainly their actions were key to the happy ending we all witnessed. But it’s the fact that the story’s even bigger that still boggles my mind. Things both in AND out of the crew’s control had to go absolutely right for that plane to skim the water and stop intact. If the bird strike had come earlier or later, or if there had been vessels in that part of the Hudson, we’d be mourning instead of celebrating this event. Those are just two of an unlimited number of variables that, if changed just slightly, would have likely led to a much more sombre tale. That level of serendipity is hard to wrap the brain around and it’s an aspect of the story that I am fascinated with.
I saw Chesley Sullenberger at DFW in June last year, walking alone through the terminal corridors. He went right past where I was seated for lunch. I couldn’t help but smile when I recognized him and I nodded when he saw me smiling, but I quickly felt the need to look away and leave him be. He came by a couple more times as I awaited my flight, and I noticed other people recognizing him as well and just smiling or saying hello, but not engaging him further. He was polite with a nod or smile in return, but seemed to be as he was after the ditching – someone who normally wouldn’t seek out this kind of attention.
The crew and some of the passengers reunited on the Hudson today to celebrate their good fortune and many of them can tell tales of their lives being affected for the positive after the events a year ago. For them, the ditching may be a blessing in disguise – in dealing with the event and its aftereffects, many have no doubt gained an evolved perspective on what is really important. It could be a small blessing in disguise for New Yorkers as well. For the rest of their lives, any headline containing their town and aircraft will turn their minds to 9/11 and the trauma that no doubt will linger with them always. But once they can tear their thoughts away from those awful days and weeks and months, they will always have this other “Plane in New York” story to bring a healing, brighter thought – to remind them that sometimes, life can go terribly right.
That is probably the real miracle on the Hudson.