You may remember that freezing day in January 2009 – it was the 15th, to be exact – when a US Airways jet made an emergency landing on the Hudson River, just six minutes after leaving LaGuardia Airport. If you were in Manhattan, you may have even seen that jaw-dropping sight of a plane silently dropping out of the sky and then skidding to a stop on the river.
Within minutes, 155 shivering passengers, including the crew, were balancing on the plane’s wings or in the icy water, as boats and helicopters raced to their rescue. They all survived. But, it was only because of the quick thinking and calm courage of pilot, Chesley Sullenberger.
Now, the in-the-cockpit and behind-the-scenes story of that incredible flight and it’s surprising aftermath, is told in an on-the-edge-of-your-seat film, directed by Clint Eastwood. Tom Hanks steps into “Sully’s” professional uniform and, in his brilliant way, ‘becomes’ the pilot with 40 years of experience, who had just seconds to make a decision, which saved his plane full of passengers and crew. His performance quietly exudes the integrity and dedication of Captain Sullenberger.
Sully and his co-pilot, First Officer Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart), had a hideous realization just minutes after takeoff when a flock of Canadian geese, flew into their plane’s two engines and completely destroyed them. Despite the life-threatening gravity of the situation they calmly ran through an emergency checklist of to-do’s and notified air traffic control. This in-the-cockpit scene in the film, as Sully communicates with an alarmed air traffic controller, played flawlessly by Patch Darragh, and then makes the extraordinary decision to land in the Hudson River, is worth the price of admission alone.
You watch as Sully weighs the options. Can he make it back to LaGuardia? No. Can he possibly fly seven miles to Teterboro Airport in New Jersey? No. His engines are dead. His only choice is to keep the plane in control and glide to a landing.
Did Sully panic? In Eastwood’s film, Tom Hanks portrays the character as tense, yet determined. Never out of control. However, I asked the real-life Captain Chesley Sullenberger, 65, if he was panicking on the inside, when I attended a luncheon hosted by Peggy Siegal for the Sully cast, director and Captain Sullenberger himself, earlier this week.
“I could feel my blood pressure rising and my periphery vision narrowing, but I was totally focused. I knew I could do it,” he responded to the question. “I just knew I could land the plane on the river.”
While Sully’s ‘miracle’ landing on the river made him a national hero, what the world didn’t know was that he had to fight to justify his decision not to attempt to return to an airport and to land in the river instead.
A National Transportation Safety Board investigation at first seemed ready to rule that Sully had made an unnecessary and dangerous decision when computer simulations revealed that he could have landed safely at both nearby airports. Sully could have been dismissed immediately from the airline with his reputation, destroyed.
You’ll have to see the movie to find out what ultimately happened, but let’s just say that Captain Sullenberger was proudly and very professionally wearing his uniform at the lunch.
So, why did the legendary Clint Eastwood want to make this film? “It was the conflict, the drama that Sully had to go through. He was a hero – the real deal,” Eastwood explained. And that’s for sure.
If you want to see a true man of integrity – a real-life hero – see Sully. Today, more than ever, it bears reminding that there are still real heroes in this world who go to the furthest lengths to do the right thing and to care for the people under their wings (in this case, literally).
You will be impressed, as well as entertained as you watch this Warner Bros. film, which surely should garner Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor Oscar nominations.
Hollywoodlifers, would you like to see Sully? Let me know!