Military Wiki
Chesley Sullenberger
Born January 23, 1951(1951-01-23) (age 71)
Denison, Texas, US
Known for Captain of US Airways Flight 1549, which he successfully ditched in the Hudson River.
Spouse(s) Lorraine "Lorrie" Sullenberger
Children Kate, Kelly (adopted)
Awards Time magazine's "100 Most Influential Heroes and Icons" (2009),
Master's Medal from the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators,
Key to the City from The City of New York,
Outstanding Cadet in Airmanship and Jabara Award for Airmanship from the U.S. Air Force Academy
Chris Matthews's The Hardball Award

Chesley Burnett "Sully" Sullenberger, III (born January 23, 1951)[1] is a retired airline captain, aviation safety expert and accident investigator, best-selling author, speaker and consultant. Sullenberger gained fame when he successfully executed an emergency water landing of US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River off Manhattan, New York City, after the aircraft had been disabled by striking a flock of Canada geese during its initial climb out of LaGuardia Airport on January 15, 2009. All of the 155 passengers and crew aboard the aircraft survived.

Sullenberger is an international speaker on airline safety[2] and has helped develop new protocols for airline safety. Sullenberger served as the co-chairman of the EAA's Young Eagles youth introduction-to-aviation program from 2009 to 2013.[3] Sullenberger retired from US Airways after 30 years as a commercial pilot on March 3, 2010.[4] In May of the following year, Sullenberger was hired by CBS News as a News Aviation and Safety Expert.[5]

He is the author of the New York Times best-seller Highest Duty, a memoir of his life and of the events surrounding Flight 1549, published in 2009 by HarperCollins. His second book, Making a Difference: Stories of Vision and Courage from America's Leaders, was published in May 2012. He was ranked second in Time magazine's "Top 100 Most Influential Heroes and Icons of 2009".[6]

Early life

Sullenberger was born in Denison, Texas, to a dentist father—a descendant of Swiss immigrants named Sollenberger[7]—and an elementary school teacher mother. He has one sister, Mary Wilson. The street on which he grew up in Denison was named after his mother's family, the Hannas. According to his sister, Sullenberger built model planes and aircraft carriers during his childhood, and says he became interested in flying after seeing military jets from a nearby Air Force base from his house.[8] He went to school in Denison, and was consistently in the 99th percentile in every academic category.[9] At the age of 12, his IQ was deemed high enough to join Mensa International.[9] In high school, he was the president of the Latin club,[10] a first chair flautist,[10] and an honor student.[10] His high-school friends have said that Sullenberger developed a passion for flying from watching jets based out of Perrin Air Force Base.[8] He was an active member of the Waples Memorial United Methodist Church in Denison,[11] and graduated from Denison High School in 1969[10] near the top of his class of about 350.[8] At 16, Sullenberger learned to fly in an Aeronca 7DC from a private airstrip near his home. He said the training he received from a local flight instructor set the base for his aviation career for the rest of his life.

1973 Air Force Academy senior class photo

In addition to his Bachelor of Science from the U.S. Air Force Academy, Sullenberger also holds a master's degree in Industrial Psychology from Purdue University and a master's degree in Public Administration from the University of Northern Colorado.[12]

Military Service

Sullenberger enrolled at the United States Air Force Academy in 1969. He was selected as one of around a dozen other freshmen for a cadet glider program, and by the end of that year, he was an instructor pilot.[8] In the year of his graduation, 1973, he received the Outstanding Cadet in Airmanship award, as the class "top flyer". Following graduation with a Bachelor of Science and his commissioning as an officer, the Air Force immediately sent Sullenberger to Purdue University.[13]

Sullenberger served as a fighter pilot for the United States Air Force,[14] piloting McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom IIs from 1975 to 1980.[15] He advanced to become a flight leader and a training officer, and attained the rank of captain,[12] with experience in Europe, the Pacific, and at Nellis Air Force Base, as well as operating as Blue Force Mission Commander in Red Flag Exercises.[15] While in the Air Force, he was a member of an aircraft accident investigation board.[16]

Aviation career

Sullenberger was employed by US Airways or its predecessor airlines from 1980 until 2010.[4][17][18] (Pacific Southwest Airlines was acquired by US Air, later US Airways, in 1988.) In total, he has more than 40 years and 20,000 hours of flying experience. In 2007[12] he became the founder and CEO of Safety Reliability Methods, Inc. (SRM), a management, safety, performance, and reliability consulting firm. SRM provides strategic and tactical guidance to enhance organizational safety, performance, and reliability.[19] He has also been involved in a number of accident investigations conducted by the USAF and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), such as Pacific Southwest Airlines Flight 1771 and USAir Flight 1493.[20] He served as an instructor, Air Line Pilots Association Local Air Safety Chairman, accident investigator, and national technical committee member.[14][21] His safety work for ALPA led to the development of a Federal Aviation Administration Advisory Circular.[15] He was instrumental in developing and implementing the Crew Resource Management course that is used by US Airways, and he has taught the course to hundreds of airline crew members[15][22] Working with NASA scientists, he coauthored a paper on error-inducing contexts in aviation.[15] He was an air accident investigator for a NTSB inquiry into a major accident at Los Angeles International Airport, which "led to improved airline procedures and training for emergency evacuations of aircraft".[16] Sullenberger has also been studying the psychology behind keeping an airline crew functioning during a crisis.[23] He holds an Airline Transport Pilot Certificate for single and multi-engine airplanes, and a Commercial Pilot Certificate rating in gliders, as well as an expired flight instructor certificate for airplanes (single, multi-engine, and instrument), and gliders.[24]

Sullenberger was active with his union, serving as chairman of a safety committee within the Air Line Pilots Association.[25]

Flight 1549

US Airways Flight 1549 afloat in the Hudson.

On January 15, 2009, Sullenberger was pilot in command of an Airbus A320 from New York's LaGuardia Airport to Charlotte/Douglas International Airport in Charlotte, North Carolina. The flight was designated as US Airways Flight 1549 as well as United Airlines Flight 1919.[26] Shortly after taking off, Sullenberger reported to air traffic control that the plane had hit a large flock of birds, disabling both engines.[27] Several passengers saw the left engine on fire.[28] Sullenberger discussed with air traffic control the possibilities of either returning to LaGuardia airport or attempting to land at the Teterboro Airport in New Jersey. However, Sullenberger quickly decided that neither was feasible, and determined that ditching in the Hudson River was the only option for everyone's survival.[29] Sullenberger told the passengers to "brace for impact," then piloted the plane to a water landing in the Hudson River at about 3:31 p.m.[30] All passengers and crew members survived.[30] He later said, "It was very quiet as we worked, my co-pilot and I. We were a team. But to have zero thrust coming out of those engines was shocking—the silence."[31] Sullenberger walked the unflooded part of the passenger cabin twice to make sure everyone had evacuated before retrieving the plane's maintenance logbook and being the last to evacuate the aircraft.[8][32]

Sullenberger, described by friends as "shy and reticent,"[33] has been noted for his poise and calm demeanor during the crisis. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, for example, dubbed him "Captain Cool."[34] However, Sullenberger acknowledged that he had suffered some symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for the first couple of weeks following the crash, including sleeplessness and flashbacks, though this condition had improved by the time of his late February 2009 interview with People.[35] In a CBS 60 Minutes interview, he was quoted as saying that the moments before the crash were "the worst sickening, pit-of-your-stomach, falling-through-the-floor feeling" that he had ever experienced.[36] Speaking with news anchor Katie Couric, Sullenberger said: "One way of looking at this might be that for 42 years, I've been making small, regular deposits in this bank of experience, education and training. And on January 15 the balance was sufficient so that I could make a very large withdrawal."[37]

Post-flight accolades and publicity

U.S. President George W. Bush called Sullenberger to thank him for saving the lives of the passengers,[38] as did President-elect Barack Obama[39] who also invited him, as well as the entire crew, to join the presidential inauguration ceremony.[40] On January 16, 2009, the United States Senate passed a resolution to recognize and honor Sullenberger, co-pilot Jeff Skiles, the cabin crew, the passengers, and the first responders involved in Flight 1549's emergency landing.[41] The United States House of Representatives passed a similar resolution of praise on January 26, 2009.[42]

Sullenberger attended the presidential inauguration on January 20, 2009, where he and his wife met President Obama.[35] On January 22, 2009, he and the rest of the crew of Flight 1549 were awarded a Masters Medal by the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators.[43] A ceremony for Sullenberger was held on January 24, 2009, in his hometown of Danville, California, where he was presented with awards including Danville's "Key to the Town",[33] and was named an honorary Danville police officer.[44] San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District Chief Richard Price presented Captain Sullenberger with his district's highest award, the Medal of Valor,[45] which has been given only a few times in the district's history.[46] Sullenberger, Skiles, and Flight 1549's cabin crew, Doreen Welsh, Sheila Dail and Donna Dent, were honored with a standing ovation during the title = Super ovation for 'Sully', US Airways crew| publisher = [[NBC Sports |agency=Associated Press| date = February 1, 2009| url = accessdate = 2009-02-01}}</ref> Sullenberger was awarded with honorary lifetime membership in The Seaplane Pilot's Association.[47][48] Admirers of Sullenberger also started a Facebook fan site that, as of late February 2009, had half a million members.[35]

A few weeks after the crash, it was revealed that Sullenberger had left a library book titled Just Culture: Balancing Safety and Accountability in his luggage in the cockpit. Ironically, Sullenberger had been reading about establishing an effective safety culture by balancing accountability with learning. When Sullenberger telephoned the library to notify them that the water-damaged book had been recovered, it waived the usual late fees. New York City Mayor Bloomberg replaced the book when presenting Sullenberger with the Key to the City of New York.[49][50]

Sullenberger threw out the first pitch of the 2009 Major League Baseball season for the San Francisco Giants. His Giants' jersey was inscribed with the name "Sully" and the number 155 - a reference to the 155 people aboard the plane.[51]

On June 6, 2009, Sullenberger returned to his childhood hometown of Denison, Texas, to participate in that town's D-Day celebration, and to give the commencement address for his alma mater, Denison High School, marking the 40th anniversary of his own graduation from the school.[52]

Sullenberger also made an appearance in St. Louis, Missouri, on July 14, 2009, to participate in the Red Carpet All-Star Parade that took place before the 2009 Major League Baseball All-Star Game. Sullenberger testified before the U.S. House of Representatives's Subcommittee on Aviation of the Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure on February 24, 2009, that his salary had been cut by 40 percent, and that his pension, like most airline pensions, was terminated and replaced by a "PBGC" guarantee worth only pennies on the dollar.[53] Sullenberger also mentioned his pay cut in an October 13, 2009 appearance on The Daily Show.

Sullenberger retired from US Airways and its predecessor airline after 30 years with them on March 3, 2010. He indicated, however, that his advocacy for aviation safety and the piloting profession would continue.[4]

In 2009, Sullenberger filmed a TV commercial as a spokesman for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.[54]

Sullenberger flew to the Charlotte, North Carolina, museum where the plane is located on November 18, 2011, as part of a fund-raising effort, entering the plane for the first time since the incident.[55]

Chesley Sullenberger was selected as the 2010 Tournament of Roses Parade's Grand Marshal, an honor which was announced on Thursday, November 5, 2009, in Pasadena, California, at the Tournament House.[56] In 2009, Sullenberger was awarded the Founders' Medal by The Air League.[57]

Chesley B. Sullenberger at the LIONS World Convention 2010 (Sydney)

In December 2010, Sullenberger was appointed an Officer of the Legion of Honour.[58][59]

Post-flight career

He was a featured speaker for two panels, one on aviation and one on patient safety in medicine, at the High Reliability Organizations (HRO) 2007 International Conference in Deauville, France, from May 29 to 31, 2007.[60]

Sullenberger authored a New York Times Best-Selling book titled Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters. It is a memoir of his life of preparation for the challenge he faced during Flight 1549. Co-author Jeffrey Zaslow died on February 10, 2012, in an automobile crash while promoting a different book. Sullenberger delivered a eulogy at his memorial service on February 13.[61]

Sullenberger wrote a second book about leadership titled Making a Difference: Stories of Vision and Courage from America's Leaders, which was released on May 15, 2012. CBS News hired Sullenberger as a News Aviation and Safety Expert.[62]

He is on the editorial board of the Journal of Patient Safety.[63] He was featured in the 2012 Discovery Channel film Surfing the Healthcare Tsunami: Bring Your Best Board.[64]

Personal life

Sullenberger is married to fitness expert and television personality Lorraine "Lorrie" Sullenberger,[30] with whom he has two adopted daughters,[16] Kate and Kelly.[65] The Sullenbergers reside in Danville, California.[65][66]

Sullenberger is a registered Republican.[67] In October 2009, it was reported that the Republican Party had approached Sullenberger about running for Jerry McNerney's seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Sullenberger's publicist said that Sullenberger had no desire to run for any public office.[67]

In popular culture

Humorist and radio personality Garrison Keillor wrote "Pilot Song: The Ballad of Chesley Sullenberger III" for the January 17, 2009, edition of the variety show A Prairie Home Companion. The 2011 song "A Real Hero" by College and Electric Youth, featured in the 2011 film Drive, was written about Sullenberger and Flight 1549; It contains the lyrics "A pilot on a cold, cold morn'. One hundred fifty-five people on board. All safe and all rescued...". Sullenberger is repeatedly referenced in the 2011 feature film romantic comedy Friends with Benefits. Throughout the film, Justin Timberlake's character, a Los Angeles transplant living in New York City, repeatedly suggests to people, while flying between the two locations, that modern airplanes practically fly themselves, and that Sullenberger's feat is less notable than it is portrayed to be, only to encounter incredulity and hostility for this idea. In addition, Mila Kunis's character is seen reading Sullenberger's Wikipedia article, as well as having a brief cameo as a security guard on a building roof.[68][69][70]

An animated version of Sullenberger appeared in "The Unbrave One," the January 8, 2012, episode of the animated TV show American Dad![71] Sullenberger is referenced in "The Hero," an August 2011 episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Wags named a cocktail in Sullenberger's honor. A "Sully" consists of two shots of Grey Goose vodka and a splash of water.[72]


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