Hudson River hero is ex-Air Force fighter pilot

Hudson River hero is ex-Air Force fighter pilot
US Airways pilot Chesley B. Sullenberger III
NEW YORK (AP) - Civil engineer Robert Bea wasn't surprised when he learned the name of the cool-headed pilot who guided his hobbled jetliner over the city and landed it in the Hudson River. The pilot, after all, had been studying crisis management.

Bea, co-founder of UC Berkeley's Center for Catastrophic Risk Management, said he could think of few pilots as well-situated to bring the plane down safely than Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger III.

Sullenberger, 57, of Danville, Calif., is a former fighter pilot who runs a safety consulting firm in addition to flying commercial aircraft. He had been studying the psychology of keeping airline crews functioning even in the face of crisis, Bea said.

"When a plane is getting ready to crash with a lot of people who trust you, it is a test," he said. "Sulley proved the end of the road for that test. He had studied it, he had rehearsed it, he had taken it to his heart."

Sullenberger became an instant hero Thursday, earning accolades from those aboard US Airways Flight 1549, from New York's mayor and governor, and from an online fan club.

A woman who answered the phone at Sullenberger's home in Danville hung up on an Associated Press reporter who asked to speak with the family.

Sullenberger's wife told CNN she hadn't been watching the news and was stunned to hear about the ordeal from her husband after it was all over.

"I've heard Sully say to people, `It's rare for an airline pilot to have an incident in their career,"' Lorrie Sullenberger said. ""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."

Sullenberger, who has flown for US Airways since 1980, flew F-4 fighter jets with the Air Force in the 1970s. He then served on a board that investigated aircraft accidents and participated later in several National Transportation Safety Board investigations.

He is president of Safety Reliability Methods, a California firm that uses "the ultra-safe world of commercial aviation" as a basis for safety consulting in other fields, according to the firm's Web site.

Sullenberger's mailbox at the firm was full on Thursday. A group of fans sprang up on Facebook within hours of the emergency landing.

"OMG, I am terrified of flying but I would be happy to be a passenger on one of your aircraft!!" Melanie Wills in Bristol wrote on the wall of "Fans of Sully Sullenberger." "You have saved a lot of peoples lives and are a true hero!!"

The pilot "did a masterful job of landing the plane in the river and then making sure that everybody got out," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. "He walked the plane twice after everybody else was off, and tried to verify that there was nobody else on board, and he assures us there was not."

"He was the last one up the aisle and he made sure that there was nobody behind him."

Gov. David Paterson pronounced it a "miracle on the Hudson."

Passenger Beth McHugh, 64, of Charlotte, said: "That pilot has to be commended. He steered that plane so well. I just can't believe how well he did. We're all alive because of him."

Candace Andersen, a member of the Danville Town Council who lives a few blocks from Sullenberger, said it was an amazing story and she was proud to live in the same town as the pilot.

"You look at his training, you look at his experience. It was just the right pilot at the right time in charge of that plane that saved so many lives," Anderson said. "He is a man who is calm, cool, collected, just as he was today."

Sullenberger's co-pilot was Jeff Skiles, 49, of Oregon, Wis., a 23-year US Airways veteran.

"He was OK," said his wife, Barbara. "He was relieved that everybody got off."