I had just graduated from college and was driving back home to Columbus to take care of a few things. I heard a breaking news story on the radio that a plane had gone down over the Hudson River. “That’s really tragic,” I thought to myself.
A little bit later, I heard another update that everyone had survived the crash. I was shocked.
That was ten years ago today. US Airways Flight 1549 suffered complete engine loss when it struck a flock of geese. The plane was only able to reach an altitude of about 3,060 feet and speed of 240mph as it began to descend.
Originally, the plane had been cleared to land at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, but Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (who would become a household name) didn’t believe they would have enough time and instead landed the plane on the Hudson.
I’ve thought a lot about that event as we remember it a decade later. I think my takeaway are some of the lessons on leadership and decision making that we saw on display that day.
When US Airways 1549 was investigated, one of the things investigators wanted to find out was whether or not the plane could have made it to an airport. The aviation world is big on checklists (which help efficiency). Sully needed to abandon the checklist in this situation. The checklists were dual engine failure weren’t written for a plane that was so low ands still building up speed.
No matter how much planning and preparation you do, there are situations where you have to think quickly. Not everything can have a neatly thought out plan ahead of time. That’s not to say we should just constantly be living by the seat of our pants. Preparation still matters. Training still matters. It was because of training and expertise that the crew was able to safely land the plane.
Chesley Sullenberger was an expert on aviation with over 19,000 flying hours when the Miracle on the Hudson happened. His first officer Jeff Skiles had over 15,000 of experience.
I think it’s hard to ever truly be “ready” for something that’s never happened. Losing an engine happens. Bird strikes happen. A bird strike taking out all of the engines had never happened.
Good training and preparation is what helps in the situations where there is no plan.
In the final seconds before the plane hit the water, Sully asked Jeff Skiles “got any ideas?” In an interview, Sully said his point with that wasn’t to be flippant but he wanted to use every resource available and see if he had missed anything. Skiles replied “actually not.”
They had both done everything they could. Fortunately for all 155 souls aboard, the two pilots executed and saved the lives of all on board.
Rising to the occasion
We never know when we will be put into a big moment. For many, we never will be. But are you the kind of person today who’s ready to step up and do something great? Not just Sully and his crew but also people on the ground, boat captains in the Hudson river, officers and medics who were the first responders, coast guard divers who rushed to the scene. A lot of people stepped up and acted heroically on that day.
You never know what day might be the most eventful day of your life. Will you be ready when it comes?
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Josh Benner is the associate pastor at Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church in Fergus Falls, Minnesota and has a Master of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He enjoys writing about faith and culture. He lives with his wife Kari in Minnesota.