Chesley Sullenberger

Chesley Sullenberger
Chesley Burnett Sullenberger III
Full name Chesley Burnett Sullenberger III
Born January 23, 1951 (1951-01-23) (age 60)
Denison, Texas
Nationality American
Spouse Lorraine "Lorrie" Sullenberger
Aviation career
Known for Captain of US Airways Flight 1549, which he successfully ditched in the Hudson River.
Famous flights US Airways Flight 1549
Air force United States Air Force
Rank Captain
Awards TIME 100 Most Influential Heroes and Icons (2009) from TIME Magazine,
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

Chesley Burnett "Sully" Sullenberger III (born January 23, 1951)[1] is an American airline transport pilot (ATP), safety expert, and accident investigator from Danville, California.[2][3][4] Sullenberger rose to fame when he successfully ditched US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River off Manhattan, New York City, on January 15, 2009, saving the lives of all 155 people on the aircraft.

Sullenberger is an international speaker on airline safety[5] and has helped develop new protocols for airline safety. As of September 30, 2009, Sullenberger is also the co-chairman of the EAA's Young Eagles youth introduction-to-aviation program.[6] Sullenberger retired from US Airways after 30 years as a commercial pilot on March 3, 2010.[7] In May of the following year, Sullenberger was hired by CBS News as an on-air aviation expert.[8]

He is the author of Highest Duty, a memoir of his life and of the events surrounding Flight 1549, published in 2009 by HarperCollins. He was ranked second in TIME Magazine's Top 100 Most Influential Heroes and Icons of 2009.[9]


Early life

Sullenberger was born in Denison, Texas to a dentist father — a descendant of Swiss immigrants named Sollenberger[10] — and an elementary school teacher mother. He has one sister, Mary Wilson.[11] The street on which he grew up in Denison, Texas, was named after his mother's family, the Hannas.[11] 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.[11] He went to school in Denison, and was consistentiy in the 99th percentile in every academic category.[12] At the age of 12, his IQ was deemed high enough to join Mensa International.[12] In high school he was the president of the Latin club,[13] a first chair flute,[13] and an honor student.[13] His high school friends have said that Sullenberger developed a passion for flying from watching jets based out of Perrin Air Force Base.[11] He was an active member of the Waples Memorial United Methodist Church in Denison,[14] and graduated from Denison High School in 1969[13] near the top of his class of about 350.[11] 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.

Military service

1973 Air Force Academy senior class photo

Chesley 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.[11] In the year of his graduation, 1973, he received the Outstanding Cadet in Airmanship award, as the class "top flier". Following graduation with a BSc. degree and his commissioning as an officer, the Air Force immediately sent Chesley to Purdue University.[15]

Sullenberger served as a fighter pilot for the United States Air Force,[16] piloting McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom IIs from 1975 to 1980.[17] He advanced to become a flight leader and a training officer, and attained the rank of captain,[18] 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.[17] While in the Air Force, he was a member of an aircraft accident investigation board.[19]

Commercial pilot

Sullenberger was employed by US Airways or its predecessor airlines from 1980 until 2010.[7][20][21] (Pacific Southwest Airlines was acquired by US Air, later US Airways, in 1988.) In total, he has more than 40 years and 19,000 hours of flying experience, and since 2007[18] has run his own safety consulting business,[5] Safety Reliability Methods Inc.,[16] which provides "emergency management, safety strategies and performance monitoring to the aviation industry".[5] He has also been involved in a number of accident investigations conducted by the USAF and the National Transportation Safety Board, such as Pacific Southwest Airlines Flight 1771 and USAir Flight 1493.[22] He served as an instructor, Air Line Pilots Association safety chairman, accident investigator, and national technical committee member.[16][23] His safety work for the ALPA led to the development of a Federal Aviation Administration Advisory Circular.[17] 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 other airline members.[17]

Working with NASA scientists, he coauthored a paper on error-inducing contexts in aviation.[17] He has gained more than 19,000 hours of flight experience to destinations across North America, Europe and South America on Airbus A320s and similar planes since joining US Airways.[19] His résumé states that he was an air accident investigator for a National Transport Safety Board inquiry into a major accident at Los Angeles International Airport, which "led to improved airline procedures and training for emergency evacuations of aircraft".[19] Sullenberger has also been studying the psychology behind keeping an airline crew functioning during a crisis.[24] 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.[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 smooth ditching in the 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.[11][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 posttraumatic stress 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 magazine.[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]

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 Walsh, Sheila Dail and Donna Dent, were honored with a standing ovation during the Super Bowl XLIII pre-game ceremony on February 1, 2009.[47] Sullenberger was awarded with honorary lifetime membership in The Seaplane Pilot's Association.[48][49] 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 lost a library book about professional ethics, Just Culture: Balancing Safety and Accountability, in the plane's cargo hold. When Sullenberger telephoned the library to notify them of the lost book, it waived the usual fees. New York City Mayor Bloomberg replaced the book when presenting Sullenberger with the Key to the City of New York.[50][51]

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.[52]

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.[53]

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.[54] 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.[7]

In 2009, Sullenberger filmed a TV commercial as a spokesman for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.[55]

Sullenberger is repeatedly referenced in the 2011 feature film romantic comedy Friends with Benefits. Throughout the film, Justin Timberlake's character, a Los Angeles immigrant to 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.

Academic life

In addition to his Bachelor of Science degree 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.[18]

Sullenberger is a visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley's Center for Catastrophic Risk Management.[3][17] He was a speaker for two panels at the High Reliability Organizations (HRO) 2007 International Conference in Deauville, France, from May 29 to 31, 2007.[2]

Political leanings

Sullenberger is a registered Republican.[56] In October 2009, it was reported[56] 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.

Sullenberger was active with his union, serving as chairman of a safety committee within the Airline Pilots Association. He has not donated money to political campaigns over the last two decades.[57]

Personal life

Sullenberger is married to the fitness expert and television personality Lorraine "Lorrie" Sullenberger,[30] with whom he has two adopted daughters,[19] Kate and Kelly.[58] The Sullenbergers reside in Danville, California.

Sullenberger authored a book called Highest Duty: My Search For What Really Matters about his experience aboard Flight 1549. He is writing a second book about leadership, and CBS News has hired Sullenburger as an aviation expert.[59]

Other awards and honors

Chesley Sullenberger was selected as the 2010 Tournament of Roses Parade's Grand Marshal, which was announced on Thursday, November 5, 2009, in Pasadena, California, at the Tournament House.[60] In 2009, Sullenberger was awarded the Founders' Medal by The Air League.[61]


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  2. ^ a b "Conference Speakers". HRO 2007 International Conference, Deauville. High Reliability Organizations, 2007. May 29–31, 2007. Retrieved 2009-01-16. [dead link]
  3. ^ a b Riley, Duncan (2009-01-15). "A320 Pilot Chesley Sullenberger’s Other Jobs: Accident Investigator and Safety Lecturer". TheInquisitr. Retrieved 2009-01-16. 
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  7. ^ a b c Bomkamp, Samantha. "'Miracle on the Hudson' pilot Sullenberger retires", Associated Press, March 3, 2010, accessed March 3, 2010
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  20. ^ Baker, Debbi (January 16, 2009). "US Airways pilot a mix of modesty and professionalism, says Coronado friend". Union-Tribune (San Diego, CA). Retrieved 2009-01-17. 
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  23. ^ "Captain’s skill saved lives of everyone". The Herald (Glasgow). 2009-01-16. Retrieved 2009-01-16. 
  24. ^ Westfeldt, Amy (2009-01-16). "Hudson River hero is ex-Air Force fighter pilot". Associated Press. Retrieved 2009-01-16. [dead link]
  25. ^ Federal Aviation Administration. "FAA Airman record for Chesley Burnett Sullenberger III". Retrieved 2009-01-16. 
  26. ^ "Flight Status For US 1549". 
  27. ^ Burke, Kerry, Pete Donohue, and Corky Siemaszko (January 16, 2009). "US Airways airplane crashes in Hudson River - Hero pilot Chesley Sullenberger III saves all aboard". New York Daily News. 
  28. ^ Caruso, David B. and Verena Dobnik (January 16, 2009). "Investigators search for plane's missing engines". Yahoo!News. Associated Press. 
  29. ^ Wald, Matthew L. and Al Baker (January 18, 2009). "Dramatic details released on plane crash into the Hudson". International Herald Tribune. Retrieved 2009-01-18. 
  30. ^ a b c "N.Y. jet crash called 'miracle on the Hudson'". MSNBC. 2009-01-15. Retrieved 2009-01-15. 
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  32. ^ "60 Minutes," airdate February 8, 2009. CBS News.
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  34. ^ Goldenberg, Sally (February 10, 2009). "Key for Captain Marvel". The New York Post. 
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  36. ^ "Worst moments of my life: pilot tells of ditching in Hudson". Sydney Morning Herald. AP. February 6, 2009. Retrieved 2009-02-06. 
  37. ^ Newcott, Bill (May–June 2009). "Wisdom of the Elders". AARP Magazine: 52. 
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  39. ^ "Obama, Sullenberger speak by phone". CNN. January 16, 2009. Retrieved 2009-01-16. 
  40. ^ Booth, Robert (January 19, 2009). "Obama, Sullenberger invitation to inauguration". The Guardian. Retrieved 2009-01-19. 
  41. ^ "Text of S.Res.17 Recognizing and honoring Captain Chesley `Sully' Sullenberger III, his co-pilot Jeffrey Skiles, the crewmembers of U.S. Airways Flight 1549, and the first responders, ferry operators". Library of Congress. 2009-01-16. Retrieved 2009-01-31. 
  42. ^ "Text of H.Res.84 Honoring the heroic actions of the pilot, crew, and rescuers of US Airways Flight 1549". Library of Congress. 2009-01-26. Retrieved 2009-01-31. 
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  49. ^ "SPA and Jack Brown's Seaplane Base Honor Heroic Water Landing". Seaplane Pilot's Association. January 19, 2009. Retrieved 2009-01-29. 
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  51. ^ "NY mayor hails 'hero' crash pilot". BBC News. January 16, 2009. Retrieved 2009-01-16. 
  52. ^ Reid, John (April 7, 2009). "Mountain View school reunion at Giants' opener". Mercury News. Retrieved 2009-04-14. 
  53. ^ "Sullenberger in Denison to mark D-Day, commencement". The Herald Democrat. June 5, 2009. 
  54. ^ [1] U.S. House, Subcommittee on Aviation, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. US Airways Flight 1549 Accident, Hearing, February 24, 2009. Washington: Government Printing Office, 2009.
  55. ^ "A hero among heroes", St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, accessed December 24, 2010.
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  57. ^ Wilson, Reid. "GOP tried to recruit hero pilot 'Sully' for 2010 Congress bid", The Hill, October 1, 2009
  58. ^ Kazmi, Sophia (January 16, 2009). "Wife of Danville pilot says `This is the Sully I know". San Jose Mercury News.,lead(experienced%20pilot)%20AND%20date(1/14/2009%20to%201/16/2009)&p_field_date-0=YMD_date&p_params_date-0=date:B,E&p_text_date-0=1/14/2009%20to%201/16/2009)&p_field_advanced-0=title&p_text_advanced-0=(%22experienced%20pilot%22%29&p_bool_advanced-1=OR&p_field_advanced-1=Lead&p_text_advanced-1=(%22experienced%20pilot%22%29&xcal_numdocs=20&p_perpage=10&p_sort=YMD_date:D&xcal_useweights=no. Retrieved 2009-08-19. 
  59. ^ Bauder, David (2011-06-02). "Hero pilot Sullenberger lands new job at CBS News". Associated Press. Retrieved 2011-06-15. 
  60. ^ Splashdown pilot Sullenberger to lead Rose Parade, Associated Press, November 5, 2009
  61. ^ "The Founders’ Medal". The Air League. Retrieved 7 February 2010. [dead link]

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