Sullenberger two years after Hudson 'miracle'

January 14, 2011 8:30:53 PM PST
Saturday marks the two year anniversary of the "Miracle on the Hudson" when Bay Area pilot "Sully" Sullenberger safely landed his Airbus 320 loaded with passengers and crew on New York's Hudson River. In an instant, Sully was a household name and a national hero. ABC7 had the chance to sit down with him to discuss how that event changed his life and how he is using his fame to make the skies safer.

ABC7: "This must have been the fastest two years of your life."

Sullenberger: "Especially the first one. At first it was drinking from a fire hose and I can't tell you, words almost fail me being able to tell you if you haven't gone through it yourself, going from complete anonymity to worldwide recognition literally in minutes, I mean when that firehouse of public attention is focused clearly, directly on you the learning curve is just about vertical."

That firehouse of public attention hit Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger full force the moment he exited that plane, but only evacuated after making sure everyone else got out first.

Flight 1549 started out ordinarily enough that January day two years ago. Suddenly, just three minutes into flight, the plane struck a flock of geese, disabling both engines.

Unable to make it back to the airport, Sullenberger made a split second decision on where to land. He ditched the plane in the Hudson River, avoiding catastrophe on the streets of New York City.

And while Sullenberger never takes all the credit, it was his skill and composure that saved 155 lives that day.

In the two years since Sullenberger has met presidents, been honored at the Super Bowl, thrown out the first pitch, among countless other opportunities and experiences.

ABC7: "Has this been fun? Have you enjoyed this ride?"

Sullenberger: "One of the biggest surprises for all of us about this event was that it didn't fade away, like most stories do. It just lasted a long time; it's just one of those seminal events that people remember where they were when they first heard about it and because of that special nature of the story all of us felt an obligation to use it for good."

Last March, Sullenberger retired from the cockpit and is now focusing his attention on making the skies safer for everyone. He has had some success.

Sullenberger: "We've gotten through the Congress, signed by the president a bill that increases the minimum flying experience that pilots have to have when they become an airline pilot."

As airlines continue to tighten their belts, Sullenberger is concerned about the pressure on pilots. He wants to see changes in the number of hours pilots spend in the air and between shifts to reduce pilot fatigue and he has serious reservations about shifting aircraft maintenance out of the country.

Sullenberger: "The people working there, their native language is not English, and yet they may be dealing with highly technical manuals that must be followed exactly in proper order that are written in English. And when you don't have as many regulatory agents from the United States overseeing that work ,it's quite frankly more difficult to have as much confidence in the outcome."

ABC7: "Do feel satisfied with what you've been able to accomplish?"

Sullenberger: "No, I don't feel satisfied; we have much work to do."

Sullenberger already has one book in print about that incredible flight two years ago and another is now in the works. His new book will focus on leadership and will be in bookstores later this year.