“Sully” Accomplishes a “Miracle on the Hudson”
By Skip Sheffield
Tom Hanks is a good guy who excels at playing good guys on the big screen.
“Sully” is a prime example. Hanks went gray and grew a moustache to play veteran pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who calmly landed U.S. Airway flight number 1549 in the Hudson River Jan. 15, 2009 after losing power to both engines after takeoff from LaGuardia Airport in Queens, New York. If you have ever flown into or out of LaGuardia, you know it is a white-knuckle experience. The airport is antiquated and surrounded on three sides by developments and the other side by a bay.
I mention this because the main thrust of the story of “Sully” is not on the heroism of the pilot but the second-guessing on the alternatives to his drastic choice, which saved the lives of 155 people.
Chesley Sullenberger was a veteran pilot with 42 years experience. Those who were questioning his judgment had never done air time themselves. They relied on computer simulations that indicated Sully could have returned to LaGuardia after his engines were disabled by a flock of Canadian geese, or gone to the nearby Teeterboro, New Jersey Airport. Teeterboro was seven miles away. LaGuardia was behind the skyscrapers of Manhattan. How a jet airliner, gliding without power could have made either of those destinations is nearly impossible. It is clear that director Clint Eastwood is on the side of Sully, versus the desk jockeys of the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board). But an action movie needs conflict, and Sully and First Officer Jeff Skiles’ (Aaron Eckhart) resolute stand against government bureaucrats gives the movie a satisfying us-against-them feeling.
In the final analysis, what Sully accomplished is truly a miracle, which he goes out of his way to call a group effort among New York ferry captains, fire department and police. Some people think New York is a cold, uncaring place, but in a crisis, everyone pulls together, which makes “Sully” an ultimate feel-good movie.