Skill and Integrity: Hero on the Hudson
Last Thursday (15 January 2009), US Airways flight 1549 was successfully landed on the Hudson River and all lives were saved. The aircraft had reportedly struck two birds (in a flock of Canada geese) which incapacitated both engines very shortly after take-off. There are many amazing things which could be related about this event (such as the efficient work of the crew and the lack of panic in the exit), but I'd like to focus on two particular characteristics of the pilot himself, a Captain C.B. "Sully" Sullenberger, namely his skill and integrity.
Immediately after both engines failed while rising from La Guardia airport, Sully had to make several very quick decisions, since he was operating without engine power above a densely populated area, with 155 people on board. His familiarity with the area, including the other nearby airport, the towers of Manhattan, the Hudson River, and the Atlantic Ocean, led him to promptly recognize that his only viable option was coming down on the river. Every other alternative would lead to near certain disaster. Great skill was demonstrated in pulling together experience and familiarity to know what to do and where to go.
But that did not mean that a river landing would be unproblematic. Everything had to be just right, and had to be done just right. There had to be a large enough stretch of clear water, avoiding bridges and all the traffic on the river. The plane had to come down at just the right vertical and horizontal speed and angle of attack. You don't want the nose to hit first, or it could dive into the water; if the tail hits first, there could be a rollover or belly-flop. Wings must be even, or there could be plenty of instability. I'm no pilot, but I'm sure you'd want to avoid these. Without engine power, but just flaps, this would have been quite tricky. And providentially, there was enough open water. Great skill was clearly in evidence in pulling off exactly the right splashdown, and not cartwheeling! The Airbus A320 made a picture-perfect touchdown, needed in order to save the lives of all those on board plus those of countless others in the nearby area and on the water.
Now for the integrity part. All those classic stories about the captain being the last off the sinking ship, plus women and children first, came into reality here again. In particular, the pilot reportedly walked the full length of the aisle on the slowly sinking airplane twice to make absolutely certain that no one was left on board. This was certainly not without risk to his own life, as Sully could not have known just how much time he had personally, and the water he would have had to walk through, likely waist deep, was a frigid 2 degrees Celsius. Only after ensuring all were "safely" out, waiting on the wings, did the captain himself emerge. This is not "every man for himself", but an act of pure self-sacrifice, with concern for those in his charge.
Skill is one thing, and integrity another. May we all aspire to develop and cultivate both in harmony, for the glory of God and the benefit of mankind.
Note: Pictures from Reuters.