Thursday, January 15, 2009

The "Miracle" of US Airways River Landing

As I watched Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow report on the crash landing of a US Airways flight in the Hudson River this afternoon, I got choked up. I believe that my emotional response stemmed from the fact that all 155 people on board the plane were safely rescued before the plane sunk beneath the frigid waters. The pilot, Chesley B. Sullenberger III, has been described as a hero and rightly so. He safely landed the plane on the river after encountering a flock of geese, which apparently took out both engines. He then ensured that all passengers had safely evacuated the aircraft -- within approximately 90 seconds -- before departing himself. It is an amazing and uplifting story due to the fact that a commercial aircraft crash landed and everyone escaped without any serious injury. Also inspiring was the sight of ferries and tour boats immediately flocking to aircraft to pull people off the wings and out of the water. What has bothered me is the frequent use of the word "miracle" to describe the outcome of this event. The word "miracle" infers that there was some type of divine intervention in the saving of these passengers, when the credit solely lies with the crew of the aircraft, especially the pilot, Chesley B. Sullenberger III. In hindsight he seemed the perfect pilot to deal with this type of catastrophic event. He flew F-4's for the US Air Force before joining what was then US Air. He is certified as a glider pilot and also served as an accident investigator for the union, the Air Line Pilots Association. This guy at least deserves a Christmas card annually from every passenger on that plane for the rest of their lives, but let us not believe that there was any benevolent super being looking down, saying "Oh, I think I'll allow this plane full of humans to make a safe landing on the water." Just as there is no god monitoring sports to ensure that certain teams win or lose. Let us thank and praise the skill of the pilots and crew, who train for years for just this type of rare unwanted event.

Photo: Gary Hershorn/Reuters

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