They say you should never meet your heroes but Sully Sullenberger is a notable exception for me.
I had the great pleasure several times of meeting the man responsible for the “Miracle on the Hudson.”
I’m even more glad now given the new movie on his heroism and bravery.
If you’re tired of the political attack ads, the negativity, the sullen mood in America and need a pick me up I have exactly the right prescription.
Run don’t walk to “Sully” the new Clint Eastwood movie about Sullenberger who safely landed a US Airways jet on the Hudson River on January 15, 2009 and saved 155 lives.
It is truly inspirational as director Clint Eastwood captures all that’s right in America rather than our faults.
The US Airways 66-ton Airbus A320 lost both engines shortly after leaving LaGuardia and flying into a flock of Canada Geese which took out the two engines. Captain Sullenberger was left with one choice, the Hudson River, to try to set the plane down. So rare an occurrence was a water landing that it was never even practiced in commercial pilot flight schools.
He had to hit the water at the precise angle of 11 degrees, tail first and at a precise speed or the plane would have broken up on impact and killed everyone on board. The dramatic scenes in the movie after the geese hit are edge of the seat stuff even though you know the outcome.The fact that he landed it safely is considered one of the greatest feats of modern aviation.
Sully has Swiss and Irish heritage. Since that day he has resolved to continue his efforts to make air travel safer.
But he also believes such check lists and safety measures could have a huge impact in hospitals where dreadful mistakes are often made. He believes that with pre-flight checklists, hospital procedures and cross checking, especially in emergency rooms, are greatly improved.
This is where my sister, brother in law and their two children, Rory and Kathleen come in.
On January 15, 2013, Sully met with my family, my sister Orlaith and brother-in-law Ciaran Staunton, who lost their twelve-year-old son, Rory.
Rory was a dedicated flier in the making, who considered Sully his hero. Rory’s sister Kathleen and his cousin Alana were also there.
Rory died from sepsis in April 2012 after catastrophic medical mistakes were made in his care at NYU Langone Hospital in New York after he suffered a scrape in a basketball game at his school.
Rory’s battle for life was featured in The New York Times by Jim Dwyer and Maureen Dowd, and the coverage included his admiration and hero worship for Sully.
Sully read the article and contacted Ciaran and Orlaith, so a meeting was finally set up .
It turned out to be a wonderful dinner at O’Neill’s in Midtown Manhattan, which the Stauntons then owned, as relatives and friends of Orlaith and Ciaran gathered. Sully, his charming wife Lorraine, and daughter Kelly also attended. The Sullenberger's also have another daughter, Kate.
Sully sat down and read Rory’s term paper on him in its entirety; asked every question about Rory and his love of flying and what kind of child he was.
Sully was the polar opposite of so many self-obsessed “celebrities,” a title that does not fit easily on this former Air Force fighter pilot. Having met him on other occasions as well I can testify that he is the High Noon Gary Cooper character of modern America, unflinching in the face of great danger.
There was self–deprecating humor too, when discussing that fateful day and when he finally got off the plane after the most traumatic experience imaginable.
He called US Airways and introduced himself, and the official told him he’d have to call back as one of their planes had just gone down in the Hudson. “I am the pilot,” Sullenberger told him, followed by a stunned silence.
His wife at home was on a long call to a close relative and did not immediately pick up when Sully called, and when she did she was quietly annoyed. Why was he so anxious to speak to her?
“Turn on the TV,” he told her.
Sully unselfishly gives much of the credit to his co-pilot that day, Jeff Skiles, who kept his cool and calmly told him his altitude, speed and likely landing trajectory as the water rushed up to meet them and alarms were going off all over the cockpit.
Sully believes that the extraordinary safety record of major US airlines (excluding commuter flights) since the last major airline crash back in 2001 is due in large part to improved communication procedures between pilots, and check lists that ensure flying is made as safe as possible.
He believes the same system should apply in hospitals all over the world, and that it would make a profound difference in the death rate for patients killed by medical errors.
My family’s loss is the living nightmare of the consequences of such errors. Blood tests that revealed Rory’s worsening condition were never even checked.
Having someone like Sully onboard is a tremendous boost to the chances that such a checklist system will son be implemented coast to coast.
Meeting Sully would have been a huge deal for Rory, and his hero would not have disappointed him. The wild blue yonder is where they were both most at home.
So fly straight Sully, and keep up the marvelous work.
Catch the movie. As Clint Eastwood might say it will make your day.