Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Miracle on the Hudson- The Hero In All of Us

You know him. He's our new hero. Captain C.B. "Sully" Sullenberger, who, with a damn-you gleam in his eyes, put together luck and the impossible and saved the lives of all 155 passengers and crew of U.S. Airways Flight 1549 out of La Guardia.

Okay, so I'm only guessing. I don't know what he was thinking. I can only imagine, based on the little information I have. What I do know, though, is, he's a hero we will long remember.

But while all of New York and the national media are all but dancing with joy, Sully is conspicuously absent. Where is Sully? Well, it appears he's working. Who, after all, would be more deeply involved in the aftermath of the most successful ditching in history than the man who is not only an extremely experienced pilot but an air safety consultant?

We don't know a lot about who he is as a person. His family says he's very controlled, very professional. I suspect he's not particularly enthusiastic about all the attention he's getting, and wishes we'd just leave him alone to do his job. Possibly a pleasant,friendly guy, probably not modest, but also not self-aggrandizing. He's the kind of guy, I'm guessing, who believes he simply did his job, and knows there's plenty more to do.

Sorry, Sully, if we're embarrassing you. Because you really are a hero. You did your job, yes. You had the skills, yes. You also had a huge amount of luck on your side, we'll all agree. And you had the amazing spirit of first responders, passengers, and people who just happened to be there to pull people to safety in the few minutes available before the frigid air and water took its deadly toll. But you're the one who pulled it together. You're the linchpin. Without you, none of the rest would have mattered. You did a job that's never been done before in quite that way. A perfect job.

And everyone who has ever flown in an airplane, or seen one fly overhead, thanks you. You are our hero. Plain, pure, simple, and we will not forget.

But let's remember the other heroes, too. They were the people who saw tragedy coming and threw themselves quickly and wholeheartedly into doing whatever it took to save lives. We don't know all their names, but we know a lot of what they did.

The flight attendants who stood in the rear of the plane in frigid water as the tail sank, calmly making sure the passengers went forward instead of making the mistake of opening the tail exits. Imagine being them.
The off-duty pilots on board who helped people in exit rows get the exit doors open.
The passengers who kept their cool and and stayed quiet, who paid attention to instructions. That was all of them.
The passengers who deliberately set women and children before themselves.
The passengers who pulled some of those who had slipped into the water back onto the wings.
The ones who shared their clothing, or just helped others be a little warmer.
The ones who turned the flipped raft upright.
The passengers with medical experience who aided those with injuries.
The ferry boats/water taxis and FDNY who went immediately to the downed plane.
The ones who had the good sense to toss flotation devices into the water.
The ones who got passengers out of the water, off the wings, got them any way they could on board their vessels, wrapped them in warm blankets and hurried them to shore.
The divers who jumped into the frigid water to save a woman who would have had only minutes left to live.
Then went inside the plane to be sure no one was left behind, not knowing the captain and his co-pilot had not left the plane until they were sure everyone was out.
The responders on shore who offered medical attention and rushed passengers to hospitals.
The medical personnel who treated passengers who arrived, on both sides of the river.
The police officers who helped those who couldn't find friends and family find each other.
People who parted with garments so a wet, nearly frozen person could survive or be a little more comfortable.
Buses that transported groups of the survivors more quickly.
People who were quick with a joke or words of comfort and reassurance to lighten the fear and suffering.

Did I forget anyone? Certainly. I haven't heard all the stories. But the number of heroes in just plain staggering. All of them, just doing their jobs, but doing jobs that had suddenly become extraordinary, dangerous, requiring immense courage. How amazing and wonderful they all are.

I can imagine them, and what they must have done to help save lives, to help bring comfort, to help make connections. Yes, the spirit of New York, the same spirit we saw on 9/11, and it is beautiful. But even more, the spirit of human beings. We hear awful things every day, and there's so often good that goes unnoticed. But all our heroes this day have reminded us we all have something of the hero in us. Looky-loos often get maligned when they slow down or stop at an accident, but (and I do know there are people who are just plain greedy for gore) most of us look because if we can do something to help, we will. We just don't know what. We're usually helpless. On this day, though, even those who thought quickly and got pictures and videos have done the world a great service, letting the rest of us share in this wonderful triumph of human spirit.

So thank you, all those who went to the rescue, however small your role may have been. And thank you for reminding us of our humanity, and that it can make a difference.

And thank you, Sully. The calm and capable master of the impossible.


  1. As a veteran of the air travel industry, I wish all accidents had this kind of outcome!

    Heather Hiestand, who can still only get a comment to post as Anonymous.

  2. I can't find the error, Heather, sorry! I hope nobody else is having trouble posting, but I'm looking for the problem. I think I need an expert.



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