In Praise of Pilots

I’ve been out of commission for a couple of days and want to comment briefly on the US Air flight that landed in the Hudson River yesterday.

I’ve logged more than 1 1/2 million miles as a commercial air traveler, so I follow stories like this closely. In fact, I was landing at LaGuardia within minutes of when US Air 1549 took off. (We didn’t encounter any birds.) My group was standing in the taxi line when a man ten feet ahead of us turned around and said, “An airplane just crashed into the river.”

It turned out, though, that the airplane didn’t crash, it landed. Its pilot, Chesley Sullenberger, put it down gently after making a split second decision not to try to make it to a small airport in New Jersey. Normally, it’s considered a miracle if anyone survives a catastrophic airplane failure; for everyone on board not only to survive but to be essentially unhurt borders on the unbelievable.

Being a pilot is a funny job. Most of the time it seems to be pretty easy. But every once in a while, on a moment’s notice, a pilot is called on to display extraordinary skill, courage and character. It is remarkable how consistently pilots come through under those circumstances–a fact which, as a constant flyer, I greatly appreciate.

SCOTT adds: Our friend Hugh Hewitt read Erin McClam’s AP profile of US Airways pilot Captain Chesley Sullenberger on his show tonight. The profile begins:

Chesley Sullenberger spent practically his whole life preparing for the five-minute crucible that was US Airways Flight 1549. He got his pilot’s license at 14, was named best aviator in his class at the Air Force Academy, flew fighter jets, investigated air disasters, mastered glider flying and even studied the psychology of how cockpit crews behave in a crisis.

It’s the profile of a remarkable man who, in a flash at age 57, rose to meet the challenge for which his life had prepared him.

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