The first 100 seconds of U.S. Airways Flight 1549 were business as usual for Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger, a former fighter pilot with more than 20,000 hours of flying to his credit.
It was the next 100 seconds that presented Sullenberger with the biggest challenge he’d ever faced—and forever changed the lives of 155 passengers and crew members.
Less than two minutes into the fateful January 15, 2009, flight that became known as the “Miracle on the Hudson,” Sullenberger spotted a flock of geese 150 yards in front of the ascending plane—too close to avoid. The large birds smashed into the jet, impaling the engines.
“It felt like the bottom had fallen out of our world,” the pilot told a rapt audience during Monday afternoon’s General Session.
“Say again?” came the incredulous response. The best—the only—option was to somehow land the large plane in the murky Hudson River.
Sullenberger described the plane’s cabin as “eerily quiet” as passengers called or texted loved ones during what many assumed would be their final moments.
But Sullenberger and co-pilot Jeff Skiles executed a picture-perfect water landing and evacuated the passengers, including a woman in a wheelchair and a family with small children. They were rescued less than four minutes later, and no one was seriously injured.
Sullenberger later met the air traffic controller who’d been on duty that day. “He thought that he’d be the last person to talk to the people on this plane.”
Sullenberger credits his lifelong love of learning and dedication to his craft for the successful outcome that day. He believes embracing those qualities will help anyone lead a successful life.
“Everyone makes a mark on this world, for good or bad,” he said. “Choose what your mark will be. Ask yourself: Did I make a difference? My wish for each of you is that your answer will be ‘yes.’”