Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Master of Understatement

Did you guys watch the "60 Minutes" interview with Captain Sullenberger and the crew of Flight 1549?

Wow. I know I'm a little hormonal at the moment, but I was just a mess watching that. Did it get to anyone else as much as it got to me? I'm trying to figure out my feelings about this, and if I can, I think it will help me get a handle on them. Or I watched him and the crew receive keys to New York City from Mayor Bloomberg, and then on Letterman, I got choked up all over again.

The guy is such a cool customer. Even as he was talking about being in the situation, assessing the damage, and figuring out what to do (all of which happened within less than 5 minutes, by the way), he matter-of-factly said things like he knew there was a problem, and said he told the tower, "We're going in the Hudson." As he spoke of his decision-making process, it was obvious that the guy is an incredible professional. He trained for such situations, and years of experience enabled him to put it all together and do his job, and he managed to save 155 people in the process. Incredible.

This might bother some people, but when Katie Couric asked him if he prayed at all during this time, he (respectfully) said that he was pretty sure the people in the back had that covered for him, and he said there just wasn't time. He was focused on the problem at hand, he was using all his knowledge and talent and experience to land that plane safely, and that's all he was thinking about. I don't want to get into a philosophical debate about the presence or absence of divine guidance, but I'll just say I thought it was refreshing to hear that, and a pleasant contrast to the usual blather of everyone, from the wide receiver who made the game-winning catch to the politician who just won an election, thanking God for their triumph. Sometimes we make our own luck and our own miracles, and this captain worked hard for many years to get to the point where he was knowledgeable and capable enough to be able to make such a landing.

I think almost everyone has a fear of being in an airplane crash. I have no fear of flying, and I've been known to doze off during takeoff. The thought of crashing, however, scares the bejeebers out of me, and a water landing would be about a hundred times worse. Every passenger on that flight has talked about the preternatural calm of the captain, and the extreme competence of the rest of the crew. I think we can all only hope that we would have such a crew on any flight we were on that got into such trouble. In the course of our lives, there are certain people into whose hands we put our lives and those of our loved ones, and knowing that there are people like Captain Sullenberger and his crew makes me sleep a little easier.

I was also touched by hearing about the boats that came immediately to the crash site. The captain gave them every bit as much credit for saving the passengers as he's received. I still remember John McCain and Sarah Palin talking during the campaign about how the "liberal elite" live in Washington, D.C. and New York City. I don't even know what the hell that means, but I think those people are some of the bravest and best in our country, and if their response to 9/11 didn't convince everyone, their actions on the Hudson River should do the trick! I know my friend RaQuel, a lifelong resident of New York City, was offended by that idiotic "liberal elite" comment, and I was offended, too. I suspect that RaQuel would have enjoyed talking to them about "real America."

But I digress. Captain Sullenberger has received letters from all over the world, and his wife read one that she and her husband said was their favorite. A woman's elderly father lives in a highrise overlooking the Hudson. The woman thanked the captain and the crew for taking action that saved not only all the passengers, but potentially people living in buildings near her father. He is a survivor of the Holocaust, and she went on to say that he has always told her (and I'm paraphrasing here) that we can never know how saving just one life can affect so many others. Who knows what that one person might accomplish in their life, or who they might influence, or what their children might accomplish? Who knows how the world might be affected if that one person is not a part of it? You could tell that the letter got to the captain, and I can understand why.

I hope they are all talking to a counselor--one flight attendant in particular seemed to be having a very hard time with some of her memories, and I would guess there is an element of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder there. Even the cool-as-a-cucumber captain said that for several days afterwards, he had thoughts and doubts about whether he did things right or if he could have done things better, even though all his passengers survived.

Is Captain Sullenberger a hero? A reluctant one, but yes, he's a hero. Especially to all those people on that flight, and to all their family members, including the man whose brother died in the 9/11 attacks, and who couldn't bear the thought of his family losing another brother. And to all of us, who love to hear that in a world that seems to tolerate (and sometimes even encourage) mediocrity, there are those who refuse it and believe in being the best they can be at their jobs. Here's to the Captain and his crew. Huzzah!


  1. Hi Beth, needless to say we did not hear the wonderful Captains speach however you have me in tears here just thinking about him and all he accomplished...a real TRUE HERO ..and he desreves every nomination he gets.
    Love Sybil x

  2. I watched the interview with Sully. I was most impressed by his unabashed truth when asked these two questions: "Did you pray?" and "Did you think about saving lives of the passengers?" He said, in essence, NO to both. Good for him. He had a job to do, and if I'd been on that plane I'd be very glad that he was busy landing the plane rather than praying or thinking about me. I've started to regard Sully not so much as a hero for that one magnificent incident, but as a hero of life in general, an example of extreme competence as well as honesty to a fault.

  3. It is unusual to think that one little thing you can change or alter your life forever. We just never know about it. One day we were coming back home from Ohio and I was dilly dallying packing the car. Chuck got angry because I was not ready. We missed being involved in an accident with a dear by a minute or two. If I hadn't been stalling we could have been the ones in the accident on I80. You just never know.

  4. Well said. I also got choked up watching the captain being interviewed. I was also struck by his response regarding prayer and I agree that it was refreshing to hear. Like you, I'm dismayed by how easily and readily people feel the need to publicly shout their thanks to God no matter awhat the circumstance. It sort of makes the words rote and meaningless. Several years back, the group, Salt and Pepa won a Grammy. When they came up to accept the award, one of them was wearing a pair of very tight hot pants with glitter outlining her crotch. The first words out of her mouth were, "I want to thank God." I think that she was referring to winnng the Grammy but maybe it was for the glitter.

  5. Hi Beth, I to got choked up watching it. He is a very professional man. I would want him to be my pilot. He is taking some time off to I think deal with it all, from what I hear. It must be very overwhelming for him.
    Take care

  6. I don't have a tv, but I do have a friend who was as equally choked up as you were about it, and she is usually Miss Cool, so I will assume it was not just your hormones. In fact, she called me just to go on & on about it :-).
    As far as the prayer, I am sure there are some who pray at a time like that, and I certainly have no issue with that, and also have no way of knowing if it does any good or not, but I do think it often comes out as a stock BS phrase with some,an expected one to a degree, so I am glad he felt comfortable answering that one truthfully.
    When someone very close to me had an ill daughter, he was told all he could do was pray. He said: Mary is getting us a good Oncologist in NY also. The lady looked like she was about to have a fit of the vapors. Let's be realistic-sometimes you have to focus on what needs to be done.~Mary

  7. amen....he is a are the members of that crew.


  8. I think the most heroic are those who are humble afterwards despite the accolodes. Makes you wonder if he had not paid attention and resorted to the distraction of prayer, if things might of turned out a mite differently. I'm glad he decided his faith needed to be in his training. (Hugs)Indigo

  9. I wish I would have seen that interview. I've seen a few little clips of him but I've never heard him talk so I would have liked to have seen it.

    I had a horrendous experience on a flight and will not fly. I would have to be heavily tranqued to get on another plane.

    Thank goodness he was so cool & collected, he is a modern day hero!!!!

  10. Beth:

    A wonderful man and story! I love happy endings and wish we could all be like the people on that plane, the world would be a better place. I will keep my eyes on the birds in the backyard, count me in! Tell Ken I said hello, and that I wish you two a happy Valentines Day.


  11. I didn't see the interview but it's good to know he took action instead of praying to God, as he said, the people in the back had that covered.

  12. We watched the interview on 60 Minutes, and both Glen and I were choked up...actually I was bawling! What a class act! I haven't flown much, and while I'm not afraid, there is always the possibility that something might go wrong. Next time I fly, I'll listen to the flight attendants give their instructions!

  13. I missed the interview, but watched parts of it on YouTube. And even at that, I choked up!! Well, now that I know he wasn't praying inside, I give credit to the passengers that were praying for saving the plane... = )

  14. Hi Beth,
    "Sully" is a real hero ... exactly what we need right about now.

  15. Wouldn't it be wonderful if all pilots were like this man? A true hero he is.

  16. A hero indeed, as was all his crew. I am flying today and wish he could be my pilot. I feel so horrible about the crash that happened in Buffalo yesterday..

  17. Beth, this is a beautifully written entry expressing much insight on so many levels. I, too, was emotional when following the 60 Minutes report, and I agree that sometimes one has to leave the praying to others while handling the emergancy.

  18. I don't think that this should be diminished, as I am writing after the Buffalo crash. My heart goes out to the families and I have to wonder, giving with how it occurred, if the pilot with his last breath, made a conscious attempt to minimize the crash.

    Back to Sully and his heroics, which still is just that, heroics, given the condition. The phrase, 'We knew the environment', is apt, because he was as prepared as anyone could be to do what he did. Doing what you are supposed to do, when you are supposed to do it. That is what the good Captain did.

    And I think that given the kind of pilot and officer he was, who ever flew with him, knew they had to have their 'A Game' themselves. Not that he was hard, but when you are around that kind of competence, you instinctively feel that you have to 'raise your game'.

    The professionalism that it took to walk that plane ... and to direct the rescue efforts to those who he felt were in more need. This is a great effort by a regular guy, one who did what he was supposed to do.

    I think that is what on a subconscious level, reaches anyone who is familiar with the back story. All of his training, his entire career, was for this moment. All of our lives are like that, and it makes me think, that if I were to strive for that level of competency, to live according to the life that I hope to have, and to expect that of myself, then who knows what can happen.

    My conceptual understanding of faith, is that his faith in his training, is the acknowledgement of the divine in him. That he did not have time for his own prayer, is because he was busy being an 'instrument', and while being what he was, he did not have to do anything other than what he was there to do.

  19. On another blog I visit there was a motivational poster, similar to the ones that Ken posts, that featured a picture of the Captain with this caption: I'm sorry, I

  20. He seems about as cool as one person can be.

    I know quite a few pilots, and they all extremely even-keeled. I'm sure the pilots in Buffalo did all they could but lacked time and altitude. How bizarre is it that both flights had a passenger that lost an immediate family member on 9/11?


I'm funny how, I mean funny like I'm a clown, I amuse you?