Pilot of US Airways Flight 1549
Saved all 155 passengers and crew on
January 15, 2009.
|By Jennifer Maloney
January 16, 2009
Chesley Burnett Sullenberger wanted to fly from the time he was a boy, watching
fighter jets roar over his small hometown in Texas.
After a long career as a commercial pilot, Air Force fighter pilot, accident
investigator and safety expert, Sullenberger, 57, faced his own emergency
yesterday, landing US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River.
As the last passengers climbed onto ferry boats, Sullenberger walked the entire
plane, twice, making sure that no one was left behind, Mayor Michael Bloomberg
said at a news conference last night.
"I'm not surprised at all," said Doug Hoover, 58, who was a high school classmate of
the pilot in Denison, Texas. "This is his first chance to be a hero, but he always had
it in him. He would have gone down with the ship, if that's what it took."
Denison was home to an Air Force jet training base.
"We grew up with jets buzzing around and he was in love with that from the get-go,"
Sullenberger took private lessons and earned his private pilot's license when he
was a junior in high school, said Jim Russell, 57, another classmate who played with
Burnett in the junior high and high school marching bands.
"Occasionally, he would take me up in a plane," Russell said. "We would fly around
and look at everything."
Sullenberger, known then as Burnett, was a committed kid with a sharp mind and
strong sense of duty, his friends said. He could cut it up with the rest of them,
Hoover said, but he remained focused on one thing.
"He didn't want to do anything to hurt his chances to get into the Air Force
Academy," Hoover said. "He never got into any mischief whatsoever."
His father was a dentist and his mother taught elementary school. Both parents
encouraged his flying dreams, Hoover said.
He passed the academy's rigorous entry requirements in 1969 and headed to
Commissioned four years later as an Air Force officer, Sullenberger, who now goes
by the nickname "Sully," soon developed an interest in accident prevention. A
fighter pilot flying F-4 Phantom II jets, he served as a member of the U.S. Air Force
mishap investigation board.
In 1980, he joined US Airways and began a long civilian career as a pilot,
investigator, researcher and entrepreneur, founding Safety Reliability Methods, a
company that helps businesses improve their safety.
Sullenberger now lives in Danville, Calif., where he is a visiting scholar at the
University of California at Berkeley's Center for Catastrophic Risk Management,
which studies safety, infrastructure, and preparedness in accidents and natural
Sullenberger was the right person to guide passengers through a crisis, Karlene
Roberts, a friend who co-directs the center told the Contra-Costa Times of Walnut
"I can imagine him being sufficiently in charge to get those people out," Roberts
said. "He's got that kind of personality, which is to his credit."
A few minutes after takeoff yesterday, Sullenberger told air traffic control that he
had experienced a "multiple bird strike," said Bill McLoughlin, a union representative
at LaGuardia Airport for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. Both
Passengers said Sullenberger told them to brace for impact, then landed on the
"He was phenomenal," said passenger Joe Hart, 50, of Massapequa. "He landed it. I
tell you what - the impact wasn't a whole lot more than a rear-end [collision]. It threw
you into the seat ahead of you."
While politicians and passengers lauded Sullenberger as a hero yesterday, his wife
fielded calls from reporters.
Reached by phone, she said simply that she was proud of him.
Staff writers Eden Laikin and Andrew Strickler and The Associated Press
contributed to this story.
NUMBER OF PEOPLE ON BOARD
ESTIMATED NUMBER TREATED
|Resume of Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger:
Bottom-line driven manager supported by progressively
responsible experience across 40+ years in the aviation
industry. Possess in-depth understanding of aviation
operations acquired through real-world flight experience,
professional training and leadership roles with one of world’s
leading airlines. History of achievement in safety, innovation,
crew training, operational improvement, cost savings,
productivity improvement and customer service; proven
ability to maximize crew performance and flight safety.
Combine strong industry knowledge and business leadership
skills to consistently manage complex scheduling, lead high-
performance, motivated teams and implement efficient
processes that ensure smooth operations and quality
customer service. Strong communicator, effective negotiator
and motivational team builder; able to effectively
communicate needs and merge disparate teams in the
support of market objectives. Respected for wide range of
industry knowledge, solid sense of integrity and
demonstrated passion for industry as a whole as evidenced
by lifelong career of flying.
Industry Expertise: Piloting Procedures, Techniques &
Standardization; Crew Resource Management/ Operations;
Technical Safety Strategies (NASA Aviation Research
Consultant); Customer Service; Policies & Procedures
Development; Operations Improvement; Emergency
Rated: Airline Transport Pilot; Airplane Single and Multi-
Engine Land; Commercial Privileges Glider; A320, B737, DC-
9/MD-80, Learjet. 19,000 hours.
Certificated Flight Instructor (Airplane Single and Multi-
Engine, Glider, Instrument Airplane); Flight Engineer
(Turbojet Powered); Ground Instructor (Advanced and
Management Qualifications: Quality Control, Staff Training &
Development, Systems Implementation, Inventory
Management, IT Needs Assessment, Customer Service,
Relationship Building, Productivity Improvement, Budgeting &
Expense Reports, Vendor Negotiations.
Executive Career Highlights
USAIRWAYS 1980 to Present
Pilot – Captain on Airbus A319/320/321
Overview: Direct activities of pilot and flight attendant crew
during both domestic and international flights (U.S., Canada,
Latin America and Caribbean). Oversee all planning,
directing and verifying all aspects of preparation for flight,
including aircraft maintenance, servicing, loading, catering
and passenger boarding. Brief crew on safety and security
procedures and flight profile, ensuring all factors are
currently and remain favorable for flight, while making sure all
FAA and company procedures/polices are adhered to. Act as
Pilot-in-Command, In-flight Security Coordinator and final
authority on all issues relating to safety of flight.
Key Achievements & Contributions
Served as Check Airman, supervising and instructing other
airline pilots upgrading from First Officer to Captain and to
different aircraft. Recognized as one of best Check
Spearheaded efforts to improve maintenance efforts of MD-
80 fleet, focusing on reliability of air conditioning systems.
Helped identify and reduce number of faulty air conditioning
systems from 24 to zero on fleet. Received formal
commendation from MD-80 Fleet Manager for work on this
Instrumental in delivering better, more competitive passenger
service by presenting and receiving approval for suggestion
to apply for and receive lower-than-standard takeoff minima
Realized operational safety and efficiency improvements by
providing numerous suggestions that improved company
gate charts that pilots use taxiing to/from airport gates.
Enhanced situational awareness and safety by incorporating
entry/exit taxiways on airport charts used by pilots to
transition from gate areas to runways, working closely with
airline vendor that provides pilot charts.
Improved efficiency and reliability of air service in National
Airspace System. Identified hundreds of FAA Instrument
Landing System procedures used by all operators to land at
airports that utilized incorrect visibility minima and
collaborated with chart vendor to correct them.
Selected as airline pilot representative to work with vendor
that provides Flight Management System (FMS) for several of
airline’s aircraft to improve software and hardware that
positively impacted operational safety and efficiency of airline
operations. FMS improvements led to savings in both time
and money (1% savings in fuel costs).
Driving force behind development of airline’s first CRM
course and presenting course to hundreds of USAirways
pilots. Significantly reduced number of operational incidents
and realized reduction in number of altitude deviations.
Course focuses on multi-disciplinary approach involving
leadership, communication, decision-making and error
management – airline went from 5 major accidents to zero.
Served as NASA Aviation Safety Research Consultant
evaluating cockpit systems for reducing runway incursions.
Co-authored published technical paper on crew decision-
making errors in aviation working with NASA Ames
researchers which provided blueprint for safer pilot training,
procedures and standardization.
Instrumental in guiding all aviation groups to adopt safer,
more uniform standard with respect to departure procedures
that ultimately was incorporated into new FAA standard for all
Teamed with SFO to adopt new airport taxiway signage that
met latest FAA standards while improving safety and
Played integral role working with ATA, FAA, NATCA and
NTSB to improve operations and investigate several major
airline accidents. As member of ALPA National Noise
Abatement Committee, directly involved in development of
FAA Advisory Circular 91-53 which set new standard for
aircraft noise abatement departure procedures industry-wide
and improved safety and standardization.
Key contributor/member of National Transportation Safety
Board Survival Factors Group during investigation of major
airline accident at LAX, leading to improved airline
procedures and training for emergency evacuations of
Participated in joint FAA/ALPA All-Weather Flying Committee
simulator study of Head-Up-Display (HUD) symbology
effectiveness during low visibility landings.
Widely recognized as pilot advocate and champion of high
professional standards that consistently result in safer,
smoother and more efficient flights. Employ leadership-by-
example approach in the facilitation of CRM courses,
teaching captains to be more effective leaders and make
U.S. AIR FORCE 1973 to 1980
Overview: Flight Leader and Training Officer with experience
in Europe, Pacific and at Nellis AFB, serving as Blue Force
Mission Commander in Red Flag Exercises.
Educational Achievements & Professional Development
B.S., Psychology – United States Air Force Academy,
M.S., Industrial Psychology – Purdue University, West
M.A., Public Administration – University of Northern Colorado,
Member, Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA)
Served as ALPA Local Air Safety Chairman, Member of ALPA
Noise Abatement Committee, ALPA representative during
negotiations leading to adoption of Advisory Circular 91-53,
Aircraft Noise Abatement Departure Procedures.
Safety/Reliability Consultant and Speaker on two panels at
HRO 2007 (High Reliability Organization) International
Conference in Deauville, France: “Flying Right, Low and High
Reliability in Air Transportation Systems” and “A Comparison
of Field Experience in HRO Implementation: Aviation,
Aerospace and Medicine”.
President & CEO, Safety Reliability Methods, Inc. Expert in
applying safety and reliability methods in a variety of fields.
Visiting Scholar, University of California, Berkeley, Center for
Catastrophic Risk Management
|By Joye Brown
January 16, 2009
There were 155 souls aboard Flight 1549. And every single one made it out.
It was a jaw-dropping achievement, by Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, who steered a
crippled Airbus A320 in for a controlled belly flop in the Hudson River yesterday. An
inspiring feat. One heck of a heartwarming story for a dreary winter day. Some
reports suggested it may have been the first successful water landing of a crippled
"The captain said, 'Brace for impact because we're going down,'" passenger Jeff
Kolodjay, 31, of Norwalk, Conn., still wet below the knees of his pants, told
reporters. Passengers put their heads down, and some prayed.
"It was intense. It was intense," Kolodjay said. "You've got to give it to the pilot. He
made a hell of a landing."
Which qualifies as an understatement.
Sullenberger wasn't giving interviews yesterday. But I suspect he might shun the
label of hero, and maybe even shrug. He was just doing his job, he might say,
before going on to thank his crew for their professionalism, his passengers for their
cooperation, and the rescuers who came to their aid.
He's an Air Force Academy graduate and once flew F-4 Phantom planes, joining US
Airways in 1980.
Here, in part, is how Sullenberger himself describes his responsibilities on his
"Brief crew on safety and security procedures and flight profile, ensuring all factors
are currently and remain favorable for flight ... Act as Pilot-in-Command, In-flight
Security Coordinator and final authority on all issues relating to safety of flight.
In short, the guy's a pro.
That's fine, but the fact remains that more than 60 tons of airplane left LaGuardia
bound for Charlotte yesterday afternoon, carrying Kolodjay and his fishing buddies
among its passengers. What happened to the engines is yet to be determined.
Yesterday, authorities said a flock of birds may have caused engine failure.
And Sullenberger, during the critical last minutes when the plane remained
airborne, made the plane succumb to his will. He did not land where people on the
ground could be hurt. He kept the plane over water. And, eyewitnesses told
reporters, he carefully piloted the plane down and into the Hudson, as smoothly as
if he were landing on a runway.
Then, passengers said he checked the plane, which was taking on water, to make
sure everyone had been rescued. He checked the plane twice.
He handled all of it with experience and skill. But there is something more. It's a
calm that's almost otherworldly, and a preternatural cool-headedness. That's what
the best pilots possess. No matter what happens. Even that's not always enough to
His success reminded me of my buddy, a former World War II pilot. He once told me
about a time he and his squadron had to deliberately steer their planes into the
Pacific because they didn't have enough fuel to make it back from a mission. They
climbed out fast and bobbed in the water in small rafts, as the occasional enemy
plane flew overhead, until they were rescued.
What happened to the planes?
"Oh, they sank," he told me.
"Weren't you scared?" I asked.
He laughed, hard, at the question.
"No," he said, "We were doing our job."