US Airways Flight 1549 had just taken off from New York’s LaGuardia Airport on the afternoon of January, 15, 2009 when the pilots sighted a flock of Canada geese flying in their path at about 2,800 feet. The Airbus 320 was unable to avoid them and the ensuing collision with the birds disabled both of the planes engines.
At that point, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger immediately took control of the plane from co-pilot Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) and told the air traffic controller about their predicament. After weighing his options in the next few seconds, Sully ignored air traffic controller Patrick Harten’s (Patch Darragh) suggestion to return to LaGuardia and instead decided to land the crippled jet in the Hudson River.
Thanks to a combination of calm water and the veteran Captain’s years of experience as a glider pilot and flight safety instructor, he managed to make a smooth landing in the river without triggering a fire or having the plane disintegrate upon impact. As a result, the 155 passengers and crew were floating downstream as the cabin slowly started to fill with water.
Sully ordered his passengers and crew to disembark into the inflatable life rafts and move onto the wings where they were quickly rescued by the commercial ferries and emergency vessels that were rushing to the scene. Amazingly, not a single life was lost in the crash that was dubbed the “Miracle on the Hudson.”
Directed by Clint Eastwood, Sully is not only a reenactment of the landing but is also about the subsequent investigation of the incident by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). We learn that while Captain Sullenberger was publicly being celebrated as a national hero by the press, the wisdom of his water landing was being questioned behind closed doors by the NTSB’s investigators.
The specialists who had been assigned to investigate the matter thought that the plane’s engines, at the bottom of the river, might have been operational, meaning that the plane could have been brought down at a nearby airport. If this were true, then Sully would have been reprimanded instead of praised. Ultimately, divers located the left engine, and the experts confirmed that the pilot did deserve his accolades.
Kudos to Clint Eastwood and Tom Hanks for successfully conveying the courage, wisdom, and stoicism that were exhibited by Captain Sullenberger in the face of the impending disaster. Stick around for the film’s closing credits that feature a reunion between the real Sully and many of the grateful people whose lives he saved.
Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for peril and brief profanity. Running time: 96 minutes. Distributor: Warner Brothers Pictures.