Damn Good and Damn Lucky


TPM Reader JM gives some more perspective on yesterday’s events …

I’m a pilot (though not an air transport pilot), and like you, I was amazed by yesterday’s events. Capt. Sullenburger’s feat is more than just impressive – I’d say he puts his pants on more than one leg at a time. I’m not aware of any commercial ditchings that didn’t involve fatalities, but:

1 – Many ditchings are more last minute than this one, and consequently much rougher. Sullenburger had the presence of mind to plan to ditch early, as soon as he realized that making it to Teterboro would be a stretch (remember that you only get one chance to make a “dead stick” landing, and Teterboro is surrounded by buildings). This early decision was HUGE.

2 – The Hudson, yesterday at 4:00 PM, was about as good a ditching spot as you could get (except for being cold). It was flat calm, and it’s long, wide, and straight, which makes it much easier to bring the plane down gently, which is the only way to have a chance at not tearing the plane apart on impact (the reason that smaller planes ditch successfully more often is that they fly much slower – the A320 is about to stall when the plane I fly is approaching its top speed).

3 – As you know, it’s also surrounded by docks and rich with rescue craft and ferries, and their prompt arrival at the crash site was also essential to saving everyone.

Sullenburger will be a hero to all pilots for this feat, and he should – he’s got ice water in his veins and is one hell of a pilot. Amazing story.

As I noted below, if you look at the map of the flight, it’s clear that the pilot decided very early that the Hudson was the place to put the plane down. And that snap decision may have been the one that saved everyone’s life. I also remember thinking yesterday that the water looked very smooth, much less wavy than I frequently see it when I walk along the river park. And that was probably critical too.

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