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The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

208 Seconds: Sully Sullenberger and the ‘Miracle on the Hudson’

Chesley Sully Sullenberger speaking as part of the Guilford Bryan Series at the Steven Tanger Center.
Deon McFarland
Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger speaking as part of the Guilford Bryan Series at the Steven Tanger Center.

On Sept. 14, Guilford College’s Bryan Series kicked off with its first guest, Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot best known for his successful Jan. 15, 2009, emergency landing of US Airways Flight 1549 on New York’s Hudson River. The landing, known as the “Miracle on the Hudson,” saved the lives of all 155 people on board.

Sullenberger started his talk by mentioning that despite his best efforts, he had become the face of this event, even though aviation is a team sport and there were efforts from many others to achieve that successful outcome. Sullenberger showed that the attention and fame in the aftermath of his actions hasn’t gone to his head. He spoke about how the “Miracle on the Hudson” made him and his co-pilot Jeffrey Skiles “like an old married couple that can finish each other’s sentences.”

Sullenberger then moved onto talking about how his childhood and time in the Air Force gave him the training he needed to successfully make the Hudson River landing. He said that there wasn’t any moment where he and Skiles practiced this emergency landing. Everything they did that day was directly from their knowledge and training.

When he started talking about Jan. 15, 2009, and the emergency landing of Flight 1549, Sullenberger used so much detail that it made it seem like the event happened just yesterday. Sullenberger also said that when he made the choice to return to piloting commercially in August 2009 and on his very last flight before retirement, he made sure that Skiles was his co-pilot for both moments, once again showing how he and Skiles had bonded from Flight 1549.

“Attending The Bryan Series yesterday was an awesome opportunity for the students on campus to see the great Captain Sully Sullenberger as he guided 155 people to safety on the Hudson,” said Deon McFarland, Guilford’s student body president, as he shared his thoughts on the day after the talk.

“GSBA this year provided transportation for the first time for students to attend the event that didn’t have rides,” McFarland said. “The Steven Tanger Center was a very nice place and environment for the Bryan Series. Overall, this was a very great experience open to all students and staff!”

Guilford senior Savannah Latoni was impressed by Sullenberger’s speech. “It’s amazing when you get to see a hero and someone who has made headlines for so long ago, right in front of you.”

“From speaking of his recollection from the day that Flight 1549 went down to the logistical breakdown of training and his thoughts on current issues was interesting,” she said. “There is a shortage of not only women pilots but pilots in general and we have to be able to reach out to people who want to go into this field of work.”

“I thought it was really wonderful to get to hear Sully speak about his background and what led up to his mental framing that day,” said Lisa Cook of the Office of Student Leadership. “I think he used the phrase of, ‘making little deposits everyday into his knowledge’ that then culminated into this big event. It was wonderful to get to hear his experience through it and living out the little deposits that had been made. I think it was wonderful for the students to get to see how the small things add up and matter in big moments.”

Asked if she thought Sullenberger was a good first speaker for this year’s Bryan Series, Cook said:  “Absolutely, I think he did a great job bringing a lot of good energy, curiosity, and inspiration. I thought the energy leaving, especially from the community that we rely on to be interested and invested in the Bryan Series, I thought it was great energy leaving the auditorium.”

After his talk, Sullenberger also held a book signing event and took pictures with attendees. Over the years since his retirement, Sullenberger has had a movie made about him (“Sully,” 2016), starring Tom Hanks in the role of Sullenberger. Sullenberger also served as U.S. ambassador to the International Civil Aviation Organization and an honored guest at the inauguration of President Barack Obama.

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