Friday, January 16, 2009

US Airways pilot, ferry employees lauded as heros: could you do what they did?

Yesterday, when US Airways pilot, Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger III, backed flight #1529 away from the terminal at New York's Laguardia Airport, he had no idea the day would end with people calling him a hero.

The flight, which was bound for Charlotte, NC, was believed to have suffered a "double bird strike" moments after takeoff. Sullenberger deftly guided the stricken airliner over the George Washington Bridge, and set the plane down in the Hudson River.

New York ferries and other commercial boats in the river at the time became impromptu first-responders. Law enforcement officers and rescuers were also quickly on the scene, rescuing all 155 passengers on board. Witnesses said Sullenberger walked the aisle of the quickly sinking plane twice to make sure everyone was evacuated safely.

The pilot's calm, cool demeanor in the moments leading up to the crash-landing, in addition to how federal investigators are describing the water landing as an "astronomical feat" for any pilot, indeed nominates him for hero status.

Perhaps his background has something to do with it. Sullenberger is a retired fighter pilot, who flew F-4 Phantoms for the United States Air Force. He is also part-owner of an independent safety company, and a certified glider pilot/instructor.

"Sully" is described by his friends and family as friendly and calm. No doubt this played into his cool-headed approach to a dire situation yesterday. But his technical skills, training and knowledge came in handy when he most needed it.

Moreover, the New York ferry employees who assisted the passengers of the jet undergo water rescue training every two weeks. Their quick, yet calm reaction helped save many of the lives that day on the frigid Hudson River. Many of those same employees credited their regular water safety training as a reason they were able to save so many, so quickly.

As much as they may try to discount the title, Sullenberger and the others are indeed heroes. But their training and skill sets are what gave them the knowledge and confidence to rise to the occasion, despite the circumstances.

There's a lesson to be learned here for everyone, regardless of being in the military or not. The next time one of your supervisors puts you in for what seems like innocuous training, or a "boring class" you think you don't need, don't pooh-pooh the opportunity.

Indeed, you never know when a future challenge may test your knowledge, skills and fortitude, and ask you to step into the shoes of a hero.

Posted by Tech. Sgt. Nick Choy,
Oregon Military Department New Media Manager

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