Quick thinking by Danville resident Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger was credited with saving the lives of the passengers of US Airways Flight 1549 today after the plane struck a flock of birds shortly after takeoff causing both engines to malfunction and the plane to dive into the Hudson River.
His neighbor, Jane Garcia, who is also a friend of the family and has known them for five years, said, "It's not surprising – he's a great guy. He's extremely intelligent, very conscientious, his whole family is like that."
Sullenberger was flying a US Airways Airbus, which had just taken off from LaGuardia Airport on its way to Charlotte, N.C. The crash occurred at 3:26 p.m. eastern time, going down in the river near 48th street in midtown Manhattan.
It is believed the plane struck a flock of geese, a hazard which is known to have been responsible for several plane crashes over the years.
When the engines failed, Sullenberger guided the plane to a landing in the nearby Hudson River. All 155 passengers and crew were able to be safely offloaded from the airplane. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg credited Sullenberger with a masterful job of piloting and said the pilot walked the plane twice to make sure that all passengers got off the aircraft to safety.
Witnesses say Sullenberger performed a "three point" landing into the Hudson. Quick action by emergency officials is also credited for the safety of the passengers and crew as ferries were able to reach the plane quickly and offload the passenger before the plane sank into the freezing waters.
Only minor injuries were reported in the crash landing, with victims treated for hypothermia, bruises and abrasions. New York Gov. David Paterson is referring to the crash as "The Miracle on the Hudson," and Sullenberger himself as "The Hero of the Hudson."
Sullenberger is a pilot with more than 40 years of flying experience, 29 of those years with US Airways. He is a former U.S. Air Force fighter pilot and has served as an instructor and Air Line Pilots Association Safety Chairman, accident investigator and national technical committee member.
He is currently the CEO and president of Safety Reliability Methods Inc. in Danville. On the company's Web site, it reads "Safety Reliability Methods, Inc. (SRM) was created to apply the latest advances in safety and high performance and high reliability processes to organizations in a variety of fields.
"I didn't know he was an aviation expert. It's pretty amazing," said Jane Garcia's husband, John, outside their home tonight.
John added, "I fly all the time and I never really had a good appreciation for what pilots do. But now I'm going to have a lot more respect for what they do."
Another neighbor, Frank Salzmann, said he thought of Sullenberger when he heard of the crash. "I knew that was a route Sully flew," he said.
Salzmann described Sullenberger as a man of solid character, calm and controlled. Exactly the sort of person he'd want at the helm in an emergency. "He's just the kind of person you'd think could pull something like that off," Salzmann said.
Around 7:30 p.m. Jim Walberg, a family friend, came out of the Sullenberger's home to tell reporters that Lorrie Sullenberger, Sully's wife, would not be making a statement tonight.
Walberg talked to reporters for a few minutes and responded to one reporter's use of the word "hero" to describe his friend. "'Hero.' It's not a name he will take to very easily. He was just doing his job."
He added, "All the stuff they're (pilots) trained to do, it's almost impossible that a pilot will ever have an incident like this in their entire life. He was just the right guy at the right time."
Lorrie Sullenberger had talked earlier to CNN, which quoted her saying, "When he called me, he said, 'There's been an accident.' At first I thought it was something minor. But then he told me the circumstances, and my body started shaking and I rushed to get our daughters out of school." She said she'd heard about the crash on television but didn't realize it was her husband's flight.
US Airways CEO Doug Parker issued a statement on the crash on the company's Web site before boarding a plane to New York. He explained that a US Airways team would be working with the passengers, crew and their families. He also reiterated their concern over the safety of their passengers.
"Safety is, has been and forever will be our foremost priority. All of us at US Airways are committed to determining the cause of this event and to assist in every way possible in preventing a similar occurrence," Parker stated.
The National Transportation Safety Board will be investigating the crash of Flight 1549.