On January 15, 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 took off from LaGuardia Airport in New York City bound for Charlotte, North Carolina. Two minutes into the flight a flock of birds disabled the plane’s engines. The Airbus 320 immediately lost thrust in both jets.
Captain Chesley Sullenberger contacted the tower and declared an emergency. When advised to return to base, the pilot replied with a terse “Unable.” Sullenberger briefly considered diverting to Teterboro Airport in New Jersey. However, the plane’s steep glide slope negated that option.
Faced with a possible crash over the heavily populated metro area, the captain chose a third alternative. In a calm voice, he informed the flight traffic controller, “We’ll be in the Hudson.”
“Sully” turned south and descended towards the Hudson River. Juggling altitude, speed, and angle of descent, the pilot approached the water. He kept the wings level and the nose slightly up. Sullenberger executed a perfect landing.
The flight crew engaged a “ditch switch” that closed the plane’s vents, allowing it to remain afloat. Miraculously, all 155 persons aboard survived.
Voice transcripts, photographs, and video provided a dramatic retelling of the crisis. The media praised the flight crew’s actions, and the American public declared them heroes. Chesley Sullenberger became a household name. This year Tom Hanks starred in a movie recounting the event simply named Scully.
Sullenberger appeared genuinely bemused by the fame and acclaim. The pilot repeatedly protested that he was no hero—he simply did his job.
During an interview, Katie Couric asked, “Did you, at any point, pray?”
Sullenberger replied, “I would imagine somebody in the back was taking care of that for me while I was flying the plane!”
The dramatic events surrounding Flight 1549 spotlighted an ordinary man doing an extraordinary job. On any other flight, even the passengers might not have noted the pilot’s skill. On January 15th, everyone noticed.
Every day people engage in the unmarked heroics of doing a job well. A mother corrects homework, a father coaches a team, a teacher instructs a classroom, a nurse tends a patient, an accountant prepares a return, a mechanic tunes an engine, a cook flips a burger, or a student studies a book. No one will notice, but their ambition to do a job well makes the world a better place.
In Romans 12:6-8, the apostle Paul wrote:
We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.
The media will not recognize such mundane efforts, but what we do each day is important. Therefore, it is worth doing well.
On January 15, 2009, Captain Sullenberger excelled in his job of flying the plane. In the back, someone else no doubt prayed during the entire descent.
I say both were heroes.