My bride and I last Saturday saw the movie Sully, Clint Eastwood’s take on airline Captain Chesley Sullenberger’s amazing landing of a distressed Airbus A320, US Airways Flight 1549, on the Hudson River on January 15, 2009, saving the lives of all 155 passengers and crew on board. We both loved the picture and my review is below the fold. The usual warning as to spoilers is in full force.
Tom Hanks gives a magnificent performance as Sullenberger, an airline pilot with 42 years experience, who, after his plane lost both engines due to a flight of birds colliding with the plane, in 208 seconds made the decision that the plane could not make it back to land at nearby airports in New York City, and that a landing on the Hudson was his only option. Hanks portrays Sullenberger as cool and professional as he saves the lives of all 155 passengers and crew due to his quick decision and his preternatural ability as a pilot. If that were all to the film it would have been a very short one. The focus of the film is in the subsequent investigation where the investigators contend that Sullenberger made the wrong decision and that he could have landed the plane at an airport.
In the face of computer simulations showing that a successful landing could have been made, Sullenberger has only his experience and instincts to back him up. Jeffrey Skiles, ably portrayed by Aaron Eckhart, Sullenberger’s co-pilot, supports his decision completely. Sullenberger has moments of doubt, especially as he deals with his new found celebrity. When he is told that human piloted simulators prove that he could have reached an airport and landed, he is crushed.
In the dramatic conclusion of the film, Sullenberger proves that the simulations are a joke because the human pilots know what is going to happen and have rehearsed the flights. At his request 35 seconds is added to the simulations to account for the shock of the actual event. With this time taken away, the two simulators crash before reaching any airports. The investigators had contended that testing demonstrated that his left engine could still provide thrust. When the engine is fished out of the Hudson, Sullenberger is completely vindicated as the birdstrike had rendered the engine completely inoperable.
In Sully Eastwood illustrates that experience and ability are crucial in an emergency, and that Sullenberger did not perceive himself as a hero but merely a man doing his job to the best of his ability. How much our world depends upon the quiet competence of people who, day in and out, do the best they can while on the job.