All 155 passengers aboard US Airways Flight 1549 are undoubtedly very grateful that their pilot was Chesley B. Sullenberger III, a former F-4 fighter jet pilot with the Air Force.
According to Yahoo, "He served on a board that investigated aircraft accidents and participated later in several National Transportation Safety Board investigations. Sullenberger had been studying the psychology of keeping airline crews functioning even in the face of crisis."
He evidently runs a safety consulting firm in addition to having been an airline pilot since 1980.
Sullenberger is also an experienced glider pilot. (His Airbus 320 was effectively turned into a glider as its engines gave out.)
All of which made him the ideal expert to land the airplane, as gently as possible, onto the Hudson River yesterday.
What made him a hero was that after everybody was off, he walked the length of the airplane twice to make absolutely certain that there was no one else left onboard.
Imagine the scene. The airplane is half submerged, with the icy Hudson lapping against the windows of the plane. The cabin lights are no longer working, so you can barely see in the darkness. The airplane could sink at any second, a situation exacerbated by the extra weight of the passengers standing outside on the wings.
I can't think of any way I really want to die. But one of the last ways I'd want to go is trapped inside a sinking airplane, drowning in murky 36 degree water.
Yet Sullenberger risked exactly that, just to make sure that everyone else was safe.
In an era when the headlines are dominated by the likes of Blagojevich and Madoff, Sullenberger came along at just the right time. This is someone we needed to hear about.
Here's hoping that Sullenberger's fifteen minutes stretch out much longer, to the end of his life.