A Non-Review of the New Movie “Sully”

September 7, 2016

I REALLY LIKED Tom Hanks in the Paul Greengrass movie, “Captain Phillips.”

There, that’s my review of the new film “Sully,” which opens this week, starring Hanks as U.S. Airways captain Chesley Sullenberger, guardian angel of the engineless Airbus A320 that splashed into the Hudson River in 2009, in what, for reasons that escape us, is widely hailed as the single most awesome, important, and unforgettable event in the history of heavier-than-air flight.

In other words, I’m not reviewing the movie. I can’t review it, because, in the interest of self-preservation, I’m afraid to see it.

It was all I could do to muster up the courage to take in the trailer. Which, in all honestly, had me wanting to see more. Once you get past the histrionics at the beginning — “No one warned us. No one said, you are going to lose both engines at a lower altitude than any jet in history.” — it’s a compelling little tease.

But thirty carefully culled seconds can be deceptive. I’ve been burned this way before. All I could do was shake my head. “Not bad,” I said to myself. “But do I have the stomach, or enough blood pressure medication, to get through two full hours of this?“

Call me a coward, and maybe — hopefully? — I’ve got it all wrong. Remember, though, I have decades of precedent on my side. When Hollywood does airplanes, the results are always a mess, ranging from borderline realistic to off-the-wall preposterous. There have been almost no exceptions to this — save, perhaps, for the efforts of the aforementioned Paul Greengrass, whose “United 93” was a damn good movie that got most of the pilot stuff correct. Problem is, Greengrass isn’t directing “Sully,” Clint Eastwood is, and I have a bad feeling about this one.

A few years back, I had a similar reaction after the movie “Flight” came out. That’s the one where Denzel Washington pours himself drinks at the galley, then crash-lands his jet into a field after an inexplicable malfunction causes him to fly a series of inexplicable aerobatics. I had no intention of seeing it. Readers (and a magazine editor or two) kept badgering me, though, and in time I gave in. A mistake, that was. Then, a couple of years later, in one of the most unforgivably misguided moments of my life, I actually gave the film a second try. I watched it again, and it was even more infuriating the second time around.

And did they have to call it “Sully?” Couldn’t they have picked a better title? For that matter, couldn’t they have picked a better story? The very premise of the movie is based on a myth: the idea that only the most skillful and fearless ace pilot was able to save flight 1549 from all but certain doom. “Miracle on the Hudson” and all that. What Would Sully Do? And for this allow me to cannibalize a segment from my book:

When the ill-fated jet took off from New York’s La Guardia airport, first officer Jeffrey Skiles had been at the controls. When the engines quit, at a little more than two-thousand feet above the ground after a collision with Canada geese, captain Sullenberger took over. There’s no reason a copilot can’t continue flying in an emergency, but in this case most of the primary instruments on Skiles’ side of the cockpit would have failed from loss of power. Sullenberger took the controls because, really, he had to.

Determining a place to land was urgent to say the least. A turn-back to La Guardia was deemed either too risky or downright impossible, as was continuing westward toward Teterboro airport in New Jersey. The choice, then, was either a crash landing in the middle of one of the most built-up cities in the world, or a ditching in the ice-cold Hudson River. The latter was hardly ideal, but it was clearly the better option and would have to do.

From there, Sullenberger would adjust the plane’s pitch to maintain an optimal glide speed. The trickiest part of the whole thing would be calculating the correct speed and altitude to begin the flare — when to pitch the nose up and break the descent. Flare too early and the plane could stall or drop hard into the water Keeping the wings level would also be critical, lest the plane flip, roll inverted, or otherwise break up, with certain loss of life.

Well done.

Sully Movie Poster

Just the same, I’m uneasy at calling anybody a hero. Nothing they did was easy, but on the whole they did what they had to do, and what, we should hope, any other airline crew would have done in that same situation. Sullenberger himself readily admits as much. Not out of false modesty, but out of due respect for his colleagues everywhere. It wasn’t heroics that saved the day, it was, to use a word I normally dislike, professionalism.

And nowhere in the public discussion has the role of luck been adequately acknowledged. Flight 1549 was stricken in daylight, and in reasonably good weather that allowed the crew to visually choose a landing spot. Had the engines quit on a day with low visibility, or over a crowded part of the city beyond gliding distance to the river, the result would have been a total catastrophe. No amount of skill would have mattered. They needed to be good. But they needed to be lucky too. They were both.

A miracle describes an outcome that cannot be rationally explained. Everything that happened on January 15th, 2009 can be rationally explained. That nobody was killed was owed to four factors. They were, in descending order (pardon the pun): luck, professionalism, skill, and technology.

And look at the movie poster for a minute. There’s almost a religious sheen to it: the airplane looking bird-like, angel-like, with its outstretched escape slides, backdropped by a romanticized gray Gotham. It’s just a little much. (The plane is also facing the wrong direction. If that’s lower Manhattan on the right — including a mysteriously completed One World Trade Center tower, which in real life wasn’t finished until long after 2009 — we should be looking at the tail, not the nose.)

A hero, meanwhile, describes a person who accepts a great personal sacrifice, up to and including injury or death, for the benefit of somebody else. I’ve never suggested that Sullenberger and Skiles were merely “doing their jobs.” It was considerably more than that, and nothing about it was easy. A total engine failure and subsequent crash landing is a dire predicament even in ideal conditions. But I didn’t see heroics; I saw an outstanding execution of difficult tasks in the throes of a serious emergency.

And there’s a longstanding unfairness to the whole pilots-as-heroes thing that gets under my skin. Over the years, there have been countless aviators who, confronted by sudden and unusual danger, performed admirably, with just as much or skill and resolve as can ever be hoped for. But they weren’t as lucky. By virtue of this and nothing more, they and many of their passengers perished.

(Soundtrack for this post: “Nobody’s Heroes,” one of the brashest records of the 1980s, from the long forgotten Belfast rockers Stiff Little Fingers.)

As the trailer tells it, “Sully” goes beyond the flight 1549 accident itself. This is the proverbial “untold story” of everything that happened afterward, and how Sullenberger, the man, endured it. It explores some of the skepticism and second-guessing that dogged the investigation. Did Sullenberger and Skiles do the right thing by aiming for the Hudson? Is it true they could have, or should have, made a U-turn and glided back to La Guardia? Is it true that one of the plane’s engines was still functioning?

Sure, all of that is interesting stuff. To a point. Forgive me, but of all the harrowing things that have happened to planes, pilots, and their passengers over the years, this is the best the movie-makers could come up with? Why don’t we have a John Testrake movie? Why don’t we have a Bernard Dhellemme movie? Who, you ask? Here, take an hour out of your life and watch this documentary.

And others too. Chances are you’ve never heard of them — maybe because their planes didn’t come splashing down alongside the world’s media capital.

I can’t help thinking about Al Haynes, the United Airlines captain who, ably assisted by three other pilots, deftly guided his crippled DC-10 to a crash landing in Sioux City, Iowa, in 1989. A disintegrated engine fan had bled out all three of the plane’s hydraulics systems, resulting in a total loss of flight controls. Using differential engine power to perform turns, all the while battling uncontrollable pitch oscillations, that Haynes and his crew were able to pull off even a semi-survivable landing (112 people were killed; 184 survived) is about as close to a miracle as you can get.

Or, how about about Donald Cameron and Claude Ouimet, the pilots of Air Canada flight 797, who managed — barely — to get their burning jet onto the runway in Cincinnati in 1987. It took so much effort to fly the plane that they passed out from exhaustion after touchdown.

Or consider the predicament facing American Eagle captain Barry Gottshall and first officer Wesley Greene three months earlier. Moments after takeoff from Bangor, Maine, their Embraer regional jet suffered a freak system failure resulting in full and irreversible deflection of the plane’s rudder. Struggling to maintain control, they returned to Bangor under deteriorating weather. Visibility had fallen to a mile, and as the 37-seater approached the threshold, Gottshall had to maintain full aileron deflection — that is, the control wheel turned to the stops and held there — to keep from crashing into the woods. Theirs was pure seat-of-the-pants improv. A fully deflected rudder? There are no checklists, and no procedures, for that one.

Me, I’ll take a daylight ditching in the Hudson over any of those three.

If the trailer is any indication, together with complaints from those who’ve seen the film, Clint Eastwood’s political biases have a role in “Sully” as well. His antigovernment sentiments are no secret, and here he’s casting Sully as a kind of everyman American hero, in battle with vindictive NTSB bureaucrats out to railroad him. But is that really how things played out? Already there are rumblings over this aspect of the storyline.

“The portrayal of the NTSB investigators in the new ‘Sully’ movie as prosecutors is not only wildly inaccurate but grossly unfair,” says Mark Dombroff, an aviation lawyer who represented U.S. Airways during the investigation.

Folks at the NTSB, which is about the most highly respected government agency that exists, are no less critical. I received an email from Robert Benzon, Investigator-In-Charge of the NTSB’s inquiry into the flight 1549 accident. “This movie will hinder the success of future NTSB investigations,” says Benzon, “because of its incredibly inaccurate depiction of how such investigations are conducted. The NTSB needs the cooperation of all investigation participants: aircraft and engine manufactures, airline operators, the FAA, employee unions, and very importantly flight crewmembers. The movie ‘Sully’ was a step backward.”


For the record, U.S. Airways 1549 was one of a handful of intentional “water landings” involving a commercial airliner in the modern era…

— In 1956, Pan Am flight 943, a Boeing Stratocruiser, ditched in the Pacific northeast of Hawaii, with only minor injuries.

— In 1963, an Aeroflot jet splash-landed in the Neva River outside Leningrad. Everybody on board survived.

— In 1970, an Overseas National Airways (ONA) DC-9 bound from New York to St. Croix ditched in the Caribbean after running out of fuel. Twenty-three people were killed and 40 were rescued.

— In 1996, an Ethiopian Airlines 767 went down off the Comoros Islands after running out of fuel during a hijacking. Video taken by tourists at a nearby beach shows plane slamming into the water and cartwheeling into pieces. At the moment of impact, the pilots and hijackers had been wrestling for control.

— In 2002, a Garuda Indonesia 737 ditched in a river near Yogyakarta, Indonesia, after both engines quit during a severe rainstorm. A flight attendant was killed.

— In 2006, a Tunisian ATR-72 turboprop crashed into the Mediterranean off the coast of Sicily. Twenty-three people survived.

— In 1977, a hijacked Boeing 747 owned by the Stevens Corporation plunged into the Bermuda Triangle and quickly sank. Miraculously, the cabin remained intact, leaving the occupants trapped alive at the bottom of the ocean. They were later rescued through the ingenious use of giant flotation balloons.

Oh, wait, that last one was the movie “Airport ’77.”

And this one.


Note: portions of this story appeared previously in the online magazine Salon.

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104 Responses to “A Non-Review of the New Movie “Sully””
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  1. Traveller says:

    I met Al Haynes.

    The piece I will always remember from the discussion on UA 232:

    There are two things everyone knows about the DC10:
    1> You cannot lose all three hydraulic systems.
    2> If you do, you cannot fly the plane.

    I will add is that the “real” NTSB crew were VERY aware of the feat that Captain Sullenberger had accomplished. It was a successful conclusion of an unusual event. They were focused on reviewing the events of the incident to find those things that worked, those that didn’t, and what could be done better the next time. And to do that without victimizing the crew.

    The words “hero” and “miracle” are both overused. I would hope that any crew could have done the same, but Sully and Skiles were handed this one and delivered a survivable result. I will agree with another comment. The manner in which Sully handled the event, during and after, contributed to the impression made. I would also agree that Sully, his crew, and the NTSB were quite professional in the best sense of the term.

  2. CP says:

    I can’t quite understand the keeping the wings level issue during the landing as though this was something amazing he did and is only important when landing on water I imagine that landing on water or land keeping the wings level is just as important and a basic part of landing any plane anywhere and wasn’t the difficult issue.

  3. Jon says:


    I think Sully did a great job of picking one reasonable option when he landed the aircraft on the Hudson, but I am curious if you have any thoughts on the following from the NTSB report:

    1) Sim run #36 (35 second delayed turn after bird strike and then return to runway 13) was labeled “not successful” in the main report (came up just short of runway), but the footnotes for that sim run say that it was started 18 kts slow. So it looks like a totally useless data point, and they never did another sim run at the correct starting speed. Seems weird; why not? Also, Sully actually started his left turn 21 seconds after bird strike, but the NTSB did not run any sim scenarios with that parameter. Seems like the NTSB did not really try to access whether a return to LGA was possible or not (not that that would negate Sully’s decision, but it might let other pilots know what is possible in a future situation when there is no water around to land on).

    2) Do you know what caused the airplane to balloon and lose airspeed about 350 feet before touchdown, resulting in almost no airspeed left for flare?

    • Patrick says:

      The simulator analysis seems to show that a return to the airport MIGHT have been successful. But how would the pilots know that for certain? They went with the sure thing: a PROBABLY safe ditching in the river, versus a MAYBE successful turn-back that could easily have ended in disaster.

      As for the ballooning at 350 feet, I really don’t know.

  4. Capt doug says:

    Go see it

    As a 320 capt I was sceptical … but the technical side was pretty good … some small questions about sops that may differ from my airline but other than that … pretty good

    At least they didn’t roll the airplane over ( ugh )

  5. Stephen R. Stapleton says:

    The scene that defined Capt. Sullenberger not as a hero, but as a trained professional doing his job is just after the plane is emptied. He does one last walk to the rear checking that everyone is off. He then goes to the flight deck, puts his tie on tight and straight, puts on his jacket, grabs the paperwork, and steps off the plane. He took time to make sure no one was left behind, he made sure he looked calm and in charge, and then exited ready to continue command. He had a role to play, he knew it, the role — played well — would keep people calm and, perhaps, save lives, and he played it well.

    The real hero of the movie is hours and hours of training and preparation. Pilots spend time, a great deal of time, over their careers, preparing for something they hope they never do.

    If one can ignore the foolish and utterly fictitious interplay with the Fed officials, the movie is a tribute, not to heroes, but people doing their job.

  6. Tim Collins says:


    Great link on the MidAir Miracle. This Sully stuff is getting Silly!


  7. Alan Hack says:

    Dear Pat: I write this as an avid reader of your blog, and think it is excellent.
    I agree that “Flight” was absurd, and that the NTSB was treated badly in “Sully.” But this movie reminded me of Apollo 13, also with Tom Hanks. I had the same feeling from both Apollo and Sully which was even though I knew the outcome (everyone survived) I still found the drama exciting and satisfying.
    You might go see it and then decide.
    Keep up with your blog, we all appreciate it.

  8. Richard says:

    Go see the movie.

  9. Brian Young says:

    Why would he have to be a pilot?

    For weeks after the “miracle”, all the sim techs at the schoolhouse wanted to try their hand at being Sully.
    I’m sure they weren’t all successful, most don’t even hold a private pilot license but most described it as being moderately more difficult than flying into the World Trade Center.

  10. Kim L. Ming says:

    Twenty years before Sully, a USAir went in the water with gobs of deforming ice and those pilots became the butt of jokes. I’d take a VFR ditching over any accident I’ve actually trained for any day. I saw the film, and while respectful to the profession, as a professional, I’d rather watch Snakes on a Plane again.

    Great review.


  11. Narwhal says:

    Another hard hitting review of the “Sully” movie


  12. Kurzleg says:

    Definitely not calling any of that into question. Was just trying to say that listening to the audio knowing what Sully and co-pilot were dealing with gave me even more appreciation for what they did.

  13. Pranesh Dey says:

    Would add a line of praise here for the fantastic book ‘The Geese, The Glide and The Miracle on the Hudson’ by William Langewiesche. Written in Langewiesche’s gorgeous style, I never tire of reading the book.

  14. Olld Rockin' Dave says:

    I have seen and enjoyed most of Eastwood’s films and he has turned out a solid body of work, but I wouldn’t put him on top of a list that includes Steven Spielberg, Howard Hawks, Samuel Fuller, King Vidor, Frank Capra, Billy Wilder, Lewis Milestone, Tim Burton, Sam Peckinpah, Orson Welles, Stanley Kubrick, and Charlie Chaplin, to name just the ones who immediately come to mind.
    While Charles Laughton was British, the only film he directed, “Night of the Hunter”, was in all respects an American film, and is rightly called a classic.
    Honorable mention goes to Ida Lupino who managed to make low budget movies into first-rate drama, especially noteworthy considering what women were given to work with in that era.

  15. Narwhal says:

    Well Patrick, I finally got around To reading your thoughts about movie the Movie “Sully” haven’t seen it so I have nothing to say about it for now.

    But I do have some nits to pick about some of your comments:

    First, your remark about “Captain Philips” (2013); I agree that it was OK in a Hollywood sort of way and apparently it did depict a real event more or less as it happened.

    However, a much better Danish (mostly in English) movie “A Hijacking” (2012) was was pretty much blocked from US venues by the Hollywood mafia in anticipation of the Hanks movie. Even though is a fictionalized account it is a far better movie. If interested look here:


    First you say that there were “only a handful of intentional “water landings” involving a commercial airliner in the modern era.” Ummm….I count 16 plus the following reference link:


    In addition, I clearly remember this crash in 1969 when I lived near LAX. We listened all night to the marine radio communications between the fleet of rescue craft that set out from Marina Del Rey.


  16. Stacy says:

    Saw the movie today and I think you would find the piloting portions acceptable. Everybody behaved professionally and there weren’t a lot of theatrics. I did wonder about the guy who was told to evacuate by jumping into the river, but maybe that was real – I haven’t looked it up.

    Alas, I’m a lawyer and know generally how government hearings work, and there was not one believable moment in the movie’s portrayal of the NTSB proceedings. I felt about that plot much as you feel about “Flight.”

    Basically nothing happened in the movie; it was very plot-light. It was still pretty good (except for the ending gag). Go check it out if you still haven’t.

  17. Timmy says:

    You say Hollywood rarely if ever does planes right. Even ‘Snakes on a Plane’?! I thought it was fairly realistic. “jk”

  18. Bobby says:

    I’m chary about seeing the film for the same reasons, but I think there are a precious few films that aren’t entirely execrable. “Flight” was simply offensive, but Cliff Robertson’s “The Pilot” (1979) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pTONnXTwtuY) is actually, albeit cheesy at times, a much better narration of a pilot’s struggle with alcoholism, with much, much greater aviation verisimilitude (and great DC-8-53 action withal!).

    And to confirm, there really *is* a corny made-for-television movie about UAL 232 starring Charlton Heston as Al Haynes.(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KldsIAGkmek). Incidentally, I love how every version of the CVR transcript excises Haynes’s penchant for dropping the f-bomb, and cleans up his famous quip to Denny Fitch (“I don’t drink, but I’ll sure shit have one”). “Hell” is substituted for the f-word.

    P.S., Always excited to find another Jazz Butcher fan out there!

  19. Kurzleg says:

    I likely won’t see the film either because of the clear bias that comes thru even in the trailer I saw.

    That said, I’ve listened to the audio from the La Guardia tower on Youtube, and what struck me was how cool and succinct Sully was. When the controller asks him if he’d like to land at Teterboro, his one-word response – “Unable” – is both concise and pretty darn chilling.

    • Patrick says:

      Much has been made about the fact that Sullenberger didn’t consider returning to LGA. Some simulations apparently show the flight could have made it back. But in the throes of the emergency, this was uncertain. They KNEW they could glide into the Hudson. At best, however, they knew they MIGHT make it back to LGA. Failing to make it would have meant crashing into one of the most densely populated neighborhoods in America, with total catastrophe as the likely outcome.

  20. Diane says:

    Well,Patrick (?)
    I just saw the movie and was NOT sitting there trying to pick it apart as you just did without seeing it? Wow, a movie critic “afraid” to see a movie where you already know the outcome. Interesting. I thought it was a wonderful movie, skillfully edited and seemingly trying to recreate what happened in a truly realistic manner. I thought it was just the right mix of drama, special effects and story telling. Job well done. OH, I absolutely love Tom Hanks!!!

  21. S Fariz says:

    Didn’t they make a TV movie out of United 232 starring Charlton Heston of Airport 75 fame as Haynes, James Coburn as the fire chief in SUX & John M. Jackson of JAG fame as Col. Dennis Nielsen?

  22. Christopher says:

    I’m a pilot (pvt/comm/multi/IFR) with a little over 7,000 hours. I share your apprehension about “realistic” aviation movies. But a friend of mine, also a pilot, got early screening tickets for “Sully” at the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. I went mostly as an excuse to hang out with my buddy. I was prepared to hate the movie, a la “Flight,” and spend lunch ripping it to shreds.

    I gotta say – it’s extremely well-done. The cockpit scenes are impressively subtle, giving a real sense of how a highly-experienced flight crew would operate in that situation. Obviously I’ve never experienced anything remotely like Flight 1549, but on the handful of occasions when I’ve faced adversity in the cockpit I found calm in training and procedures. You really feel that in “Sully.” The film also does an admirable job of giving credit where it’s due to the other people both inside and outside the plane who helped save the day.

    [WARNING: HERE BE A SPOILER OR TWO] I will say, however, that the opening scene really bothered me. A US Air Airbus A320 crashes into lower Manhattan. It’s the opening scene, and it’s inexcusably gratuitous. Eastwood replays it a couple more times (to show Sully’s PTSD) and it doesn’t get any better. It’s not nearly as asinine as the crash in “Flight,” but it felt like a cheap way to gin up the tension in a movie everyone knows the outcome of.

    Other than that, it was a pleasant surprise….

  23. Rod Turnham says:

    Saw the movie last night, enjoyed it very much! Only Mr. Sullenberger can comment accurately on how well or poorly he was portrayed by Tom Hanks, particularly the emotional aftermath of a landing every pilot hopes never to be forced to make.

    The worst part of the movie, for me, was the portrayal of the NTSB as viciously attacking Sullenberger without having all the facts. I don’t believe that’s the way it happened (Patrick Smith, please jump in here), and I believe the NTSB is far too professional to ever act as they were portrayed in this movie.

    Overall, though, a good movie, and one I’m recommending to my friends.

  24. Mark A. says:

    Just relax. How can you come to all these conclusions without having seen the movie? Like you, I really get tired of the “hero” syndrome that’s currently in vogue among American journalists, just as much as the trite reply, “I was just doing my job.”

    I’m a pilot and found the movie thoroughly enjoyable; in fact I might even see it again – because Mr. Eastwood, at 86, really understands how to put together a film in the best Hollywood tradition. Which of course means that it’s embellished for maximum impact (and box office sales).

    So gird your loins, pop a valium or two and go see Sully…and remember, this is not a Frontline documentary, it’s a Hollywood movie.

    (BTW, thanks for the nice tribute to Joe Sutter.)

  25. PSimpson says:

    “However he had planned out the Hudson ditching years before just in case and specifically chose the exact portion of the river where the ferries operate as having the greatest chance of quick rescue. ”

    I did not realize this. Talk about being prepared! But just the kind of thing the glider pilots I have known would do.

  26. PSimpson says:

    Thank you. I probably won’t go to see it either, because I dislike commercial movies “based on” real events. I dread what they will do to this one.

    One thing that (IMHO) hasn’t been emphasized enough, is that the pilot was a glider (sailplane) pilot. I’m not sure how current he was, but I do know a few of these animals, and they always claim they have no fear of engine failure, because, as pilots of unpowered aircraft, they are conditioned to always have a landing site in range, and constantly balance airspeed and altitude, so they have a more acute awareness of their options. Make of that what you will.

    I read the Wikipedia summary of the NTSB report (one day, I’ll read the whole thing) and what comes across is that the people flying that aircraft that day did almost everything right. I choose to believe that this was not due to chance. They were professionals, and happened to have had enough experience (Sullenberger in particular) that they knew, reflexively, what they needed to do.

  27. Dan says:

    I don’t know how you can call SLF “long forgotten”. I was literally just listening to them yesterday!

  28. dbCooper says:

    To me Sullenberger ranks hero status based up his testimony before congress. I have not seen the movie so I wonder if Eastwood addresses these industry issues in his movie.


    • Patrick says:

      In some of my earlier posts and columns on the Hudson incident (most of them back when I was writing for Salon.com), I complimented Sullenberger for making these points. I’m not sure that anybody was listening, but good for him. He has used his celebrity well.

  29. Anonymous says:

    Umm…that’s kind of what he’s doing. Without the teeth grinding. Did you even read the article?

  30. Quentin says:

    Patrick, I found your ‘site, through a link on a political discussion forum. As a non-pilot, and in the past, someone who has greatly admired pilots for their skills, I am stunned if not even appalled, at the underlying tone of the professionals here, It smacks of Gary Copper and “Aw shucks, maam, twasn’t nothing.” When actually it was a very big deal. I get the point that of “longstanding unfairness to the whole pilots-as-heroes thing that gets under my skin”, but as a non-pilot, as far I am concerned that is part and parcel of the job you people do. So there is going to be respect and hero worship when do your job to the highest standards, and save people lives in an emergency. Even though that is what you are trained to do. So yes, Sully and Skilling WERE heroes, as were Al Haynes and John Hanson, and their crews. We might have the tendency to too quickly elevate people to hero status, but we are just as quick to want to tear them down. It Australia they call it the “Tall Poppy Syndrome”, in Japan “The nail that sticks up gets hammered down.” I don’t know what the term would be for in the US, but it exists. So next time someone asks you about Sully, I think you should just grit your teeth and say he did a great job, and leave it at that.

  31. Pranesh Dey says:

    Loved the movie except for the way NTSB investigators are portrayed. Plus, water landing is portrayed as something very scary. Enjoyed it, will watch again.

  32. Jim Wilke says:

    For starters, this is movie, not a documentary. It was made to sell tickets and have a little fun.

    Second, politics aside, Clint Eastwood is the greatest American director, period. Unforgiven, Mystic River, $$$ Baby, Play Misty, Flags. Fathers, Bird, American Sniper, Pale Rider

    • Patrick says:

      I did enjoy “Mystic River” quite a bit. It’s the best of the bad-boys-from-Boston genre. It wasn’t as over-the-top as “The Departed” — which would have been a great movie it hadn’t been ruined by Jack Nicholson’s cartoonish crime boss character — and was infinitely better than Ben Affleck’s “The Town,” which was just stupid.

      (Somebody now is going to mention “The Friends of Eddie Coyle.” I’ve read the book, but I never saw the movie.)

  33. Brett Edwards says:

    -Though by no measure perfect, I found ‘Sully’ well done, entertaining, and much more accurate than many others (the truly awful ‘Flight’ being the best recent counter example).
    I would blame most of its flaws more on the structure of the standard Hollywood movie as much as anything…An even-handed, less adversarial NTSB would leave only Canada Geese and Gravity itself as ‘the bad guys’–the anti-Gubmint political angle was for me more subtle than some make it out to be, but the director admonished an empty chair on live TV, so this is not his worst work.
    The technical aspects of commercial flight were well done, some details confusing my non-pilot date.
    I was curious what you might think of this movie even as I watched, and I encourage you to give it a chance, and use the experience to further teach the public.

  34. paul says:

    Why mad?
    The children of the magenta line do not look out the window, as there is no magenta line out there. You do not develop, nor do you maintain the skills required to dead stick an airliner to a successful ditching if your sop is to engage the autopilot at 410´.
    Air crashes used to happen due catastrophic equipment failures. These days they happen due catastrophic human error.

    • Patrick says:

      Okay, so you’re not a pilot and you’re just regurgitating what other non-pilots keep saying about pilots. And, before you get too nasty with me, maybe read this… http://www.askthepilot.com/automation-and-disaster/

      Meanwhile, go back and have a look through the accident archives. No, we don’t see as many catastrophic equipment failures and malfunctions anymore, but the idea that human error didn’t used to regularly cause major disasters is ludicrous. Most of history’s worst crashes — a majority of which happened decades ago — were the result of human error. Would you like me to list some, just off the top of my head? The truth is, both types of accidents used to be much more common than they are today.

  35. Alan says:

    I just saw this and it was not that bad. Yes I think the presentation of the NTSB and other investigator act was unfair and will leave the public with the impression that they always behave that way. Obviously they did that for dramatic tension but damn those guys deserve better than that.

    The problem for the screenplay is that in order to make it watchable they had to compress pretty much all the “action” into one dramatic scene at the end where it appears that the investigation was pretty much open and shut in about a half hour in one big room with all sorts of official looking people with laptops. I don’t want to post spoilers but at least they resolved the politics they set up.

    But I didn’t find much to complain about with regard to the actual flying. The cockpit activity looked reasonably authentic. We also got two pretty convincing simulation flights which were used to make a key point on how things unfolded. When you finally see it I’ll look for your comments on that.

    Also, Patrick, I think you would appreciate two other things about it, based on what you have written before: 1) Sullenberger’s discomfort and conflicted feelings about getting the mantle of “hero”, and 2) the role of the second pilot Jeff Skiles. They dedicated a scene to making sure that Sullenberger gives him full credit for the good outcome.

  36. Napoleon Borntoparty says:

    When I first saw the trailer for this film, I thought right away about your article on this particular incident, and thought,”Boy, wait ’til he sees this!” While reading this, I followed your link to the Air Crash Investigation episode on youtube, and was surprised. Air Crash Investigation, AKA Mayday, is my absolute favorite Air Crash Documentary series. I have seen almost all of the episodes and own a DVD collection. Great for those who want to peek at the less heard of but just as perilous air crashes and incidents.

  37. Mark Maslowski says:

    Just for fun, here is The Onion’s review of “Sully” – http://www.theonion.com/v/4370

    Pretty funny!

  38. Mark Maslowski says:

    I just got home from seeing “Sully” and I was pleasantly surprised that they seemed to get the flying and airline parts just right. However, they got the NTSB investigation horribly wrong and if I were a member of that organization, I would be seriously insulted. I guess they needed to have some conflict that our “hero” gets resolved at the last minute. In the hands of a more skilled and subtle director (look how much about space that Eastwood got really wrong in “Space Cowboys”), there probably is a story in Sully’s inner conflict and his dealing with fame that would have been compelling… here it’s just straight out of the Hollywood hero-against-the-evil-bureaucrats playbook. Cheap and lazy filmmaking.

  39. Old Rockin'Dave says:

    After reading reviews and seeing what they had to say about the treatment of the FAA, and reading over some of what Captain Sullenberger has said about the same, I am convinced that the title of the movie is meant as a verb, not a noun.


    Thanks for this article. From all the pictures I’ve seen and remember, the plane was facing downstream after crossing the GWB. So if you were looking at the nose, Manhattan would be on your right. No?

  41. JMB says:

    Patrick, I think that band would have an enormous ready-made audience!

  42. JMB says:

    Seth – did you even read the article? Patrick is in no way trashing Sullenberger or his work!

  43. Seth says:

    I knew this write-up was coming. Glad to see it. Thanks.
    But I’ll give them a pass on the movie poster as those are rarely reflections of reality or even scenes from the movie. Recalling the movie Airplane!, I don’t think there was any scene where the plane was twisted like the pretzel shown on the poster.

  44. Seth says:

    This seems overly harsh. For many of the reason that ATP doesn’t hesitates to label Sully a hero, it seems that we should also avoid completely trashing his work. Maybe there are things to be learned and improved upon but people walked away from the plane and that’s pretty important.
    I could certainly understand his desire to come in slow. Yes there are the risks you mentioned but he probably couldn’t assess the chop on the water until he was pretty close to it. I live along that river and depending on the wind and currents, there can be pretty significant waves that you wouldn’t want to hit any faster than necessary.

    • Patrick says:

      Come on, Seth, how was I “completely trashing his work?” My intent was to compose an article that I thought Sullenberger himself would take as a compliment — one that spoke to the substance of what happened that day, but without the hype and hyperbole. So, unless I totally missed the mark….

  45. Ad absurdum per aspera says:

    One wonderfully silly thing that jumped out at me was the WordPress URL for this posting. If there are any English villages in need of a name, Sully-upon-Hudson would be a good one…

  46. Anonymous says:

    “A miracle describes an outcome that cannot be rationally explained. {…} That nobody was killed was owed to four factors. They were, in descending order (pardon the pun): luck…”

    “Miracle” is the term that religious people use for “luck.”

    And even if theoretically any properly rated air transport pilot should have been able to do what they did, if I am ever on an airliner that requires such prodigious luck, I hope there are gadzooks hours in the pointy end, and that the pilot flying has a lot of his in that type and a career pattern of specific concern for aviation safety. ‘Cuz as a wise fellow once put it in another context, “chance favors the prepared mind.”

    Whether the movie is any good, I have no idea yet, though like some others who have chimed in, I am a bit wary of how the overtly political side of the off-duty Eastwood might have crept into his work, in addition to the usual concerns about airplane movies…

  47. Most readers know, Patrick and I have best-selling books on fear of flying. Mine is “SOAR: The Breakthrough Treatment for Fear of Flying.”

    Patrick is right. Luck played a major role. Manuals spell out how to ditch a plane. Overstressed, Sully didn’t follow the instructions: “If no power is available, a greater than normal approach speed should be used until the flare. The speed margin will allow the glide to be broken early and gradually, decreasing the possibility of stalling high or flying into the water.”

    Sullenberger did the opposite. He slowed to the lowest speed at which the plane could stay in the air. No speed was left to raise the nose, break the descent, and touch down gently. Thus, the plane slammed into the water at three times the force the plane was designed to handle. The aft fuselage broke open. Frigid water rushed in. The plane was sinking fast.

    Had the plane been equipped as most USAir’s plane were, escape from the water would have been impossible. Many aboard would have frozen to death in the water before ferry boats reached them.

    By total, dumb luck, Sullenberger was flying one of the few USAir A320s equipped with slide-rafts. This gave passengers a way to escape, and turned what would have been a disaster into a triumph. Though Sully screwed up big time, luck made him a hero.

    The FAA needs to mandate simulator training for every emergency, not just some. Sim training in ditching would have kept Sully from screwing up.

  48. paul says:

    Maybe Sullenberger is hailed the hero because he is old school. We have a new and rapidly growing generation of cockpit crew who in a similar situation would be furiously punching keys and pushing buttons and never once taking things into their own hands, so to speak, like Sullenberger did and actually aviate. For them it would not matter wether it is daylight or even VMC. Looking out the window and knowing what to do with information presented there is not something they are trained to do nor capable of.
    Ref the 777 in Dubai.

  49. Alex says:

    I’ll watch Sully as soon as I can find it online for free.

    I share Patrick’s expectations for Hollywood’s rendering of this incident. Basically I’m expecting a 737 on the outside, with an MD-80 cabin and the flight deck of an Embraer.

    I’m not disputing that Capt. Sullenberger did a terrific job that day – he did. But this incident has been over-sensationalized to the point of ridiculousness. I think it’s because most people still think a jet that loses all its engines will come falling out of the sky like an anvil, and that it was only “Sully’s” skilled hands and rock-solid composure that kept it from happening.

    Personally I’d be more interested in seeing a movie about United 811 or Transat 236.

  50. MW says:

    I read a lengthy transcript of a talk Al Haynes gave to some pilots about UA 232. He also said quite a lot about how much luck favoured them – the weather was good, Sioux City had just held a disaster drill where the scenario was a jet crash with mass casualties, it happened on the one day of the week when the National Guard were at the airport, they got into trouble just before hospital shift change, so once the hospitals were alerted, they were double-staffed. Against this they had two bits of bad luck – the initial failure, of course, and while they were mostly able to keep the wings level, every so often a wing would dip – and such a dip occurred just before landing. (Otherwise the crash would likely have been a big slide, instead of a cartwheel.)

    Bad airplane movies: I haven’t seen anything even close to “The Concorde – Airport ’79”. It starts with a huge multicoloured hot air balloon floating over an airport unnoticed by anyone until a landing jet is on collision course with it. It ends with a crash landing on a mountain because they didn’t have time to go anywhere else, yet somehow had sufficient time to layout a landing strip with flares. Then there is dodging missiles in an airliner and airports with giant nets for catching wayward planes.

    For the exceptional piloting awards, I nominate the DHL freighter hit by a missile over Baghdad in 2003 and successfully landed without hydraulics.

    • Patrick says:

      “Airport 79” was the best bad airplane movie ever made. Thats the one where they use giant bungee cords to stop the Concorde from running off the runway.

      And a good call on the the DHL freighter. I once wrote about that incident in a column I did for Salon.com. It’s somewhere in the Salon archives if you feel like Googling it.

  51. JMB says:

    James – I think we were all secretly hoping this would be another Apollo 13, with the focus on the technical aspects and the human ingenuity and teamwork required to pull off such a “save” …but as you say, that doesn’t fit into the worldview of CE (Chair, Empty) or his typical modern Hollywood master plot of Unappreciated Hero saves the masses who don’t share his unique natural brilliance and grit. (See recent Batman and Superman movies for this same master plot, complete with flying heroes.)

    It would be far harder to write a film script in the Apollo 13 mold for the Hudson landing, I think, but it should be possible…it would mean setting up the background, of airlines cutting corners and denigrating experience and trying to pay pilots as little as possible, versus Sullenberger’s past “Practice, practice, practice” and championship of training and treating pilots as skilled professionals like surgeons, with the same “lives depend on experience” instead of fungible cogs.

    That could add some suspense in advance, even though we know how it ended, because we would be seeing how easily it could have gone the other way. Start the film with examples of other cases where luck wasn’t on the flight’s side, or pilot inexperience or airline corner cutting, and then the audience knows the stakes, just as in Apollo 13, and the run time gets filled out without demonizing any good people just doing THEIR duty, and audiences learn something, too.

  52. SRC says:

    BTW, I was responding to Maria’s observation that 1 WTC was too close to completion in the movie poster. It’s way too early in the morning to be doing this.

  53. SRC says:

    Glad you’re not the only one who noticed that; I thought it was my OCD kicking in way too early in the day. Did you also notice that the plane is facing the wrong direction? It landed facing south. Lower Manhattan should have been on the right and Jersey City on the left (yes, I live in the area).

  54. Curt Sampson says:

    Oh, come on, there have been some brilliant airplane films! Who will ever forget, “What’s our vector, Victor?”

    As for the film, well, it serves as yet another demonstration of the human tendency to want to assign credit or blame to an individual, rather than to a system and the long, long chain of people that put it together. Aviation started on the path away from this in 1935 after the crash of the prototype B-17 when some brilliant person or people decided that, rather than simply telling pilots, “Never forget to disengage the gust locks,” they created a checklist with this and other items on it and convinced pilots to run through it before every flight.

    For some reason, “tens of thousands of people over many decades created the environment where Sully could successfully ditch after a failure of all engines” just doesn’t seem to make for a compelling story for most people. (It sure does for me, though.)

  55. Nancy Brenner says:

    You write really well!



  57. Hagar the Horrible says:

    I’m a private pilot and I have friends who are airline pilots. I don’t think I’ll watch the movie for the same reasons as you. “Flight” nearly made me sick to my stomach… the plot, not the visuals.

    I hope that “Sully” gives equal credit to the cabin crew for the safe evacuation of all 150 passengers in a true emergency with all the chaos that entailed.

  58. L. D. says:

    A correction: The assumption that OGG was named after Captain Richard Ogg is understandable, it’s an incredible story; however, Kahului Airport is named after Bertram James “Jimmy” Hogg who flew for Hawaiian airlines for many years. (It was decided to go with the “OGG” designation rather than “HOG” for obvious reasons). If you find yourself at Kahului airport check out the large exhibit near gate 19 that tells Jimmy’s story. More information is available below, or you can Google OGG Hogg.


    And Patrick, thanks for putting this out there, I’m happy that you confirmed that this is a movie that I don’t have to watch for many of the reasons I have.

    • Patrick says:

      Dammit, that’s right. In fact, as I was writing the article, I began to type the name “Bertran H…” Then paused, looked at my notes, and at an online story that I’d pulled up, and saw the name Richard Ogg instead. I said to myself, “I could have sworn his name was Bertran Hogg.” Because it was.

      I have taken out that sentence.

  59. Steve Christensen says:

    Well I agree completely with Patrick’s “rant” about this, but I tried explaining the point to my wife that Sully just did what any well trained professional pilot would have done (like my very own father, who flew B-17s) and she looked at me like some kind of idiot, and said I (and by extension Patrick) were all wrong, and that Sully IS a hero. So I think this is a view that is probably best kept to ourselves.

  60. Mitch says:

    “(2) failure of the front gear to lock thus providing extra breaking [sic] to prevent overshoot of the runway” – please note that like most other airliners, the 767 does not have any brakes on the nose landing gear.

  61. James David Walley says:

    Agreed about the ideological bias — I read Sullenberger’s book on the incident, plus one or two others (which seemed to argue over whether Sully or the Airbus design saved everyone), but I don’t recall any of them even mentioning a horde of stoooooopid and eeeeeeeevil gubmint bureaucrats waging a campaign to destroy a Lone American Hero. Not a word about that supposed aspect — which, of course, is something that, factual or fictional, would fit perfectly into Empty-Chair’s worldview. Oh, well, I guess they had to find something with which to fill up a feature film’s running time; if one were to make a movie sticking strictly to the incident itself, it would have lasted around ten minutes.

  62. Oliver Wiest says:

    I do not understand the importance of luck in this fine analysis. Is it that more good luck — daylight, visibility, place, etc. — was in the play than bad, the collision of aircraft and geese?

  63. TR says:

    Great piece, and thanks for the link to that extraordinary documentary about the Air France hijacking.

  64. Jim Houghton says:

    I doubt the average commercial pilot has spent as much time and energy working on emergency procedures as I understand Sullenberger to have done over his career. The passengers were lucky to have him instead of the sort of low-hours, underpaid kid Patrick so often laments. Doesn’t make Sully a hero, doesn’t make the landing a miracle, but it was extra helpings of luck all around, for sure.

  65. JMB says:

    Lee, it’s not a problem, but it’s different from what we call “heroic” because there’s no element of self-sacrifice in it, like a firefighter rushing into a burning building or a Coast Guard helicopter pilot flying out into a storm to rescue a boat or medical evacuation flights from a mountainside. Nobody’s saying they’re not doing great work, but it doesn’t have that element of altruism and taking risks when they don’t have to, that seems necessary to fit the heroism label.

    Another way of looking at it, you can be an excellent role model, someone to admire and look up to, and a credit to your profession, without qualifying for the equivalent of the Congressional Medal of Honor. Because that means going beyond your duty, not just doing your duty perfectly.

  66. JMB says:

    Follow-up: from Bloomberg, it does indeed seem that this is Eastwood setting out to make the NTSB investigators into villains. He says as much, that that was what he got from “the script” but why Todd Komarnicki chose to write it that way, to where Sullenberger insisted they at least change the names away from the real investigators’ and if Eastwood even understands that it’s now a fictionalized account, is unclear.


  67. Some interesting points to consider about “Sully.”

    1. This will be one time they should include the words “Thanks to CGI technology….no animals were harmed in the making of this film.”

    2. Some people may forget that this incident gained much of its initial notoriety because the news of the plane’s ordeal was tweeted by one of the survivors with a picture — marking the moment that Twitter came into its own as a media outlet and was able to beat the mainstream media to the punch.

    3. Why did this movie get made instead of other worthy airplane stories? Because the action took place in New York, which considers itself the media capital of the world. Never forget that old cover of The New Yorker Magazine which shows a New Yorker’s view of America.

    George Heymont

  68. Maria says:

    Two things:

    1) Not to pick nits too much, but does anyone else find the 1 World Trade Center on the poster look a little too close to completion for when the accident happened (2009)?

    2) I’d love to hear Patrick respond to Comment #18 (Sir Wired) about ocean landings. And I’d love to know, in short, what do they tell you in airline pilot training about the likelihood of being found and saved if passengers ever do manager to survive a landing in, say, the Atlantic?

    • Patrick says:

      I noticed that the skyline was wrong, but chose not to make an issue of it.

      As to the second question, these sorts of highly unusual emergencies aren’t really practiced. Once in a while, but not normally. You have to draw the line somewhere — there are SO MANY contingencies that pilots have to rehearse. There are some fundamentals to landing in the water that any pilot, even a private pilot, is familiar with, but beyond that…. How do you glide into the water? Well, you glide into the water. There isn’t a whole lot to train.

      Same thing, more or less, with landings in the open ocean. What’s the likelihood of being saved? It’s impossible to say. There are so many factors in play: location, weather, sea conditions, temperature, etc.

  69. UncleStu says:

    TangoAlphaFoxtrotCharlie says, “Your assumptions would be more correct if this were a Ron Howard movie. But since Sully is a Talking-to-a-Chair-Era Clint Eastwood movie, you can bet the story will be primarily about a True American Hero being persecuted by the always incompetent United States Government via jackbooted NTSB bureaucrats.”

    True Dat!

  70. UncleStu says:

    Dear, S.A.

    You said, “It is clear that Patrick was being “hard” on Sully.” Quite the contrary. He paid the cockpit crew the kind of compliments they would appreciate most.

    You also said, “Correct me if I’m wrong, but while many people have tried to put a passenger jet that size down on water, in one piece. This was the first time that anybody actually pulled it off.” Did you even read the article? Patrick made a list of incidents that preceded Sully’s.

    Then you end with, “If your gripes are only with the hyperbole, fine.”

    Well it clearly was only about the hyperbole.

    So what’s your point?

  71. Greybeard says:


    While everything you say is accurate, I can’t help but feel that there’s another factor at work here: there’s a mythology that comes from this incident that makes us *want* it to be a miracle.

    That’s not rational–who wants to rely on miracles?–but we all put our destinies entirely in someone else’s (capable!) hands when we get into that aluminum tube, and no matter what the statistics say (and no matter how far we drove to the airport, one-handed while texting), we have some fear of a crash. So any crash that has 100% survival is a mythic event that we want to celebrate, to point to and say “See? It’ll be OK!”.

    When there’s some video (brief and low-res, but still) of the landing, it’s even better. And when someone who’s played so many all-American roles stars, the movie itself becomes quasi-mythic.

    I guess my conclusion is that this isn’t a movie for you front-seaters, but rather for those of us back in 27B. Much the way “hacking” movies (and CSI: Cyber) aren’t for us geeks, other than (perhaps) as comedy.

  72. TangoAlphaFoxtrotCharlie says:

    Your assumptions would be more correct if this were a Ron Howard movie. But since Sully is a Talking-to-a-Chair-Era Clint Eastwood movie, you can bet the story will be primarily about a True American Hero being persecuted by the always incompetent United States Government via jackbooted NTSB bureaucrats.

  73. the G says:

    I’ve enjoyed this site and its predecessor column for years, and have finally been moved to comment. I do have to point out, though, that Patrick ignores the fact that Sullenberger managed that water landing while simultaneously checking the Vatican records for a series of hidden clues to….wait, that’s the OTHER Tom Hanks movie I won’t see 🙂

    Great rant as always – and big props for the Stiff Little Fingers reference!

  74. Marc Erickson says:

    AND the pilot of the Gimli Glider did a forward slip. A manoeuver not often (if ever) done in an aircraft that size.

  75. Muki says:

    I totally agree with Patrick Smith on the media portraying a lone hero when it comes to airplane crash.

    There are always 2 well train pilots on the flight deck and with Luck and Professionalism (CRM, Skills) did their job.

    Also and not the least the Cabin Crew. Picture that the plane ditched and evacuation was chaos, passengers trying to get their bags…etc the survival rate will not have been what it was.

  76. S.A. says:

    I think you’re a bit hard on “Sully” et. al. Correct me if I’m wrong, but while many people have tried to put a passenger jet that size down on water, in one piece, this was the first time that anybody actually pulled it off. When you’re the first you get the bragging rights. There’s respect due to someone who manages that which many others have tried, even if the circumstances were in their favour.

    Now, whether hero worship is in order (it almost always isn’t, regardless of what took place), is of course another matter, that’s somewhat beside the point. If your gripes are only with the hyperbole, fine. But it should be noted that none of that came from the crew.

  77. Kathy says:

    Perhaps it would help if reporters writing about aviation were required to take cockpit resource management courses. Then at least they’d know there are two qualified pilots on every commercial flight.

  78. Lee says:

    and that aids in recovery so I don’t see a problem.

  79. Tod Davis says:

    Plus in these situations people seem to forget that when the crew perform these so call heroics they are also (and probably more so) doing it save try to save their own rear ends which also happen to be on the flight

  80. Tod Davis says:

    I believe that a movie has been made about the Gimli Glider incident, it may however been a made for TV movie

  81. Ian Farquhar says:

    I totally agree. I was surprised that they made a movie about the incident, but perhaps that’s naive.

    Gimli Glider would have been a better subject, given the unlikely combination of (1) Captain who was a glider pilot and knew how to slip to drop altitude, (2) failure of the front gear to lock thus providing extra breaking to prevent overshoot of the runway, (3) presence of the divider down the middle of the track which also assisted in breaking, (4) the fact that the airstrip now raceway was deserted (save for two kids on bikes), but that they had a bunch of people with fire extinguishers who ran in to put out the small nose fire which resulted from the landing, and (5) AFAIK – please correct me if I am wrong – nobody in simulation has managed to get the plane down safely when they tried after the incident.

    And even then, calling it a miracle is overblown. Unfortunately, the title “A Series of Unlikely Coincidences Which Had a Good Outcome” wouldn’t make a great movie title.

  82. Alan says:

    I went to see Captain Sullenberger speak at Seattle’s Museum of Flight a year or so after the ditching. He was a very gracious and serious man who acknowledged the role of luck in what happened. However he had planned out the Hudson ditching years before just in case and specifically chose the exact portion of the river where the ferries operate as having the greatest chance of quick rescue. So IMHO if he’s to be called a “hero” it’s for planning every bit as much as execution.

    By the way one of the other people in the audience of 100 or so was Al Haynes! He had some very good questions and it was interesting to watch the back and forth conversation. As an aside my father had been a senior UAL pilot when Haynes was just starting out in the 1960s so I had to ask if they had ever flown together. He said no but he remembered my dad as being one of those “hot shot pilots” that the junior pilots looked up to which made me feel very good.

  83. B says:

    Very good writeup – especially the notion of miracles, heroes and what it means to be a very capable professional doing a stressful job. I think it would be better to think of a pilot as a capable surgeon – skill, training and luck can produce miraculous results as well as disastrous ones, and it doesn’t make the professional any more or less skilled or a hero.
    That said, I think the closest aviation has to miracles is something like United 232. That’s a situation where even attempting to reproduce what that flight crew performed that day in the simulator led to no reproducible results – i.e. it was in fact pilot skill and sheer luck that allowed those 185 people to survive (and bad luck that 112 died).
    However, one thing I cannot recommend enough is reading NTSB accident reports. There is no clearer way to communicate the professionalism of pilots (and ATC) in the face of extreme adversity that reading about what actually happened. I don’t need to see Sully because I read the NTSB report – it was an exciting read and laid out everything that possibly could have happened. And I also read the Langewieshe article (“Anatomy of a miracle”) – which is way too far on the “the airbus flew itself because of stall protection, Sully did nothing at all remarkable.” And the reason he’s wrong is there are plenty of NTSB reports where the pilots failed spectacularly and killed everyone – even with alpha law protection preventing a stall. I’ll skip the move and re-read the report.

  84. JMB says:

    Long-time reader, first-time caller! Just wanted to say though I’ll miss your informed commentary I understand, being unable to finish movies that were just Too Stupid and needlessly anti-realist in areas I know something about, too.

    (I was curious because it looks from the few reviews already out, that Eastwood is using the event to rail against the very idea of post-accident investigations as emblematic of ‘Big Government’ do-nothings daring to question the noble man who actually does great deeds, which seems to indicate a sweeping lack of comprehension about what investigations are for.)

    I also agree about the wrongness of the Lone Hero archetype especially in pilot stories — I was raised on a similar USAF legend, but the way my retired aviator grandfather told it, it wasn’t just the pilot who saved his plane and passengers after an engine loss over open ocean, but his navigator and co-pilot who reconfigured their course to take advantage of prevailing winds, and thought of using ground effect to boost fuel efficiency, and the lessons in this were to study, study, study! and to pool all your resources and be willing to take suggestions from everyone, because that’s the only way to survive: no room for egotists in the cockpit.

    (I did hear a legend as well about a plane with a wing that was folding upwards brought in upside down and rolled at the last moment, but it was a tiny fighter, not even a cargo plane. Flight certainly raised MY eyebrows to the stratosphere!)

  85. Old Rockin' Dave says:

    To this list I would add the “Gimli Glider”. I’m sure you know the story but I thought I would add a brief inadequate summary for those not familiar.
    In 1983, an Air Canada 767 going from Montreal to Edmonton ran out of fuel because of a series of mixups and equipment failures. Captain Pearson was a practiced glider pilot, and with the combined improvisations and skills of the captain, First Officer Quintal, and air controllers, managed a glide of about 20 kilometers to the decommissioned RCAF Gimli field. None of them knew that the field was now a motor racing ground, and the captain put down on a dragstrip that mercifully was not in use. The plane overshot the runway but landed in less than a kilometer, coming to rest about 30 meters from the spectators. So there was your combination of skill, professionalism, and luck – the loss of engine power knocked out most of the necessary technology. Boeing had never anticipated using a 767 as a glider, so maybe the 767 still has a little bit of the Flying Fortress ‘magic’ in it somewhere.

  86. SirWired says:

    On the subject of water landings: For trans-Atlantic flights that swoop over some REALLY chilly bits of water, is there really any point in the life jackets? I mean, it seems to me that, barring a miracle, it’ll be quite a few hours before any rescue could arrive (via a passing ship). I think that means the only thing the life jacket will be good for is helping your hypothermic corpse float.

  87. Steven Rubio says:

    Thanks for this. Ever since the first previews arrived, I thought, not will this movie be good, but “What will The Pilot think of it?” Your writing on the event has always been insightful. Your “review” of the movie grows out of your earlier analysis. As usual, you’ve come through with the proverbial flying colors. And you even worked in a reference to Stiff Little Fingers.