January 15, 2009 remains a significant date in the lives of most Americans. A disabled plane with 155 passengers on board was about to crash; but its Captain, Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, landed the aircraft on the surface of the Hudson River. Eventually, he was named a national hero, but not before he had been subjected to an inquiry for malpractice. Clint Eastwood, together with the Warner Bros studio, released a historical drama about this brave and heroic episode with Tom Hanks in the main role.
The actual event took place in January 2009. Several years later, Clint Eastwood directed a movie based on the heroic story of the pilot in command, Sully, the one who pulled off a miracle. It was expected to be a routine flight when the cabin crew at LaGuardia Airport in Queens, New York, assembled for the scheduled flight to Seattle.
Lifting into the sky, the plane faced off with a flock of birds which damaged both the plane’s engines. Sully (Tom Hanks) and first officer Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) were forced to choose a workable emergency runway to land the plane from the lowest altitude, 975 metres, ever attempted in civil aviation history. All the passengers considered him a hero while the authorities suspended him for malpractice. The plot reveals the main events of the investigation of the airline and its pilots, Sully and Jeff.
Even though Sully performed a miracle on the Hudson, the unconventional landing sowed seeds of doubt as to whether he had handled the situation correctly. Experts claimed that the crew should have landed at one of the nearby airports. However, the plane’s credible options had to be assessed in seconds, so the option of landing the airplane on the water seemed like the only real choice. Several computer manipulations, with models of similar conditions, indicated that Sully had made the wrong choice.
Fighting for the Truth
Many journalists and the media concentrated on the obvious story and suppressed or ignored the after-flight inquiry. From one perspective, it was a risky moment for Sully to place his good name at risk, but a noble professional’s strategy towards those who were really in danger – the passengers and the cabin crew. First of all he saved 155 lives, and second – he accomplished an unbelievable feat, and last, but not least – he broke the rules. And in the end, really the only last thing he had on his side was justice. He fought for the truth and the right of his passengers to be protected.
The official inquiry lost sight of a very important thing: the human element – the time available to make a decision. So all appropriate conditions they used to model the situation were incorrect without taking the time available into account: 35 seconds out of the 208 seconds spent in the air, as Sully worked a miracle in the shortest imaginable time frame. The experts changed their settings and applied them to the computer manipulations that calculated the distance to nearby airports and suggested that Sully might have had choices that he did not have. But he ignored all the instructions to save 155 lives and found the real workable option, even if it seemed to be a hard mistake to admit to.
The real Chesley Sullenberger has said that the only thing he wanted this film to have was a huge impression of common humanity. That’s why it was important to count the 155 lives when it was over, and that’s why he took a fateful decision and saw it turn out to be heroic.
Moreover, Tom Hanks was nervous about not making a mess of playing the role of a living hero. The first and probably one of the most important things to note is therefore the responsibility that Hanks took on. As Sully is a national hero, even the famous Tom Hanks felt enormous pressure in playing the part he played. What is curious is that Sully, Clint Eastwood, and Tom Hanks are in the same triangle: Tom played the Sully character, Sully saw it from the sidelines, and Clint was familiar with a similar accident in the 1950. He was in the army, when a military plane, in which Eastwood was a passenger, was forced to land on the Pacific Ocean. The pilot, a young soldier, also set it on the surface of the water. But when Clint saw the incident reported in a photo in a newspaper, he was impressed by how noble Sully was, and the risks that he took. Personally, Sully also felt this moment changed his life forever.
In the real story, after 7 minutes in the air the plane encountered a flock of Canada geese, which damaged both engines. The pilot had 208 seconds, at most, to choose a runaway. Nearest to the plane was an airfield in New Jersey and the Teterboro airport, but no time to land at either one. Sully took a risk and set the plane down on the Hudson River’s surface. The co-pilot, Jeffrey B. Smiles, ordered all safety measures for tightness, so that the plane could slide across the surface and stay afloat. All 155 passengers escaped by climbing out onto both wings while the New York coast guard rushed to the rescue. Most of the passengers were diagnosed with hypothermia but left the hospital for home the same evening. The airline paid them compensation and later a payment to settle a formal complaint.
In aviation history this was the second case of an emergency “splashdown”, but this time without fatalities. Only one man was prescribed glasses after the fuel burned his eyes.
Looking back in history, in November of 1996 a Boeing aircraft flown by Ethiopian Airlines was en route from Mumbai to Abidjan – the largest city in the Western African country of the République de Côte d’Ivoire, when it was captured by terrorists and forced to head for Australia, where the hijackers planned to seek political asylum. As fuel was running out, the crew landed the aircraft on the Indian Ocean, near the Komori Islands. Fifty passengers out of 177 could be saved while the others died. It was a tragic incident and a typical outcome for airplanes that “splash down”.
So, Sully performed a miracle, considering that in water landings, there are normally no survivors.
Interesting facts to note
- Tom Hanks accepted the role after he read 5 pages of the script;
- For this movie, the co-pilot hero, Aaron Eckhart, got a private pilot license;
- For the best way to film the evacuation, Clint Eastwood used 5 cameras from different perspectives;
- All the cameras used in the movie were IMAX, a rare case in Movie history;
- The film was directed in 11 different parts of New York.
The movie titled “Sully” or it’s alternate name “The Miracle on the Hudson” is a fantastic story about one man and his team, who rescued 155 people from death. He took a risk for others. What better can a man doing his job do?
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