I blame Rupert Murdoch for one aspect in the decline of legitimate journalism in today’s world (not just in America). For it was Murdoch who, as he built his publishing and media empire, News Corporation, that fully exploited the use of sensational headlines for increasing circulation of once-legitimate publications.
And so it was Murdoch who came to mind as I saw today’s headline, “Miracle On The Hudson” describing yesterday’s crash-landing of the US Airways Airbus 320 in the Hudson River.
To refer to the incident as a “miracle” diminishes the reality of what happened.
It diminishes the fact that Chesley B. Sullenberger, a trained fighter-pilot who also runs a safety consulting firm was the Captain flying the plane when a double strike by a large flock of birds took out both engines. In the amount of time it takes for most of us to decide whether to have a second cup of coffee, Captain Sullenberger had to decide how to safely bring down a crippled aircraft with over 150 people onboard. To make matters more interesting, he would have to do so with no engines and failing hydraulics.
Ready? Go. Still thinking about that second cup of coffee? Well, in that same amount of time, Sullenberger looked out of the windshield, noticed an airport below in Teterboro, NJ. He confirmed it on the radio with air traffic control and received permission to land there – if he could make it.
How’s that decision coming on your coffee?
With permission to land, Sully (as he’s known to his friends) had to ask himself, “Do we have enough momentum to make it there?” In his mind, he had to think of the consequences of falling short of the runway. It would be an inferno in a densely populated area, as they had just taken off and the fuel supply was ample enough to get them to the scheduled destination of Charlotte, NC. “Is there an option available with less risk?” he had to ask himself. Looking below, he saw the icy Hudson River. “There’s the option!” must have been his instant decision. At least if he has a bad landing on the water, he might only sacrifice the cockpit crew, including himself, but the passengers will have a chance.
“OK, you’ll have that second cup? Will that be with cream or do you want it black?”
Now he had to inform the passengers what was going on and what was about to happen in such a way as to minimize their panic. At the same time, he had to change the trajectory of the Airbus 320 (which weighs 93,000 lbs, plus the weight of crew, passengers, cargo, and fuel) so as to begin his literal do-or-die approach to the Hudson River. In order to do so, he would also have to come perilously close to the George Washington Bridge. Sullenberger announced to the passengers, “Prepare for impact.”
“Did you want Sugar with that or, perhaps some Equal?”
Imagine what was going through the minds of the passengers. According to a report on foxnews.com (yes, the one founded by Rupert Murdoch), passenger Fred Beretta, when he heard the pilot’s announcement, commented, “I looked out the window and thought, there is a good chance we are going to die. I thought about my family and started praying.” Multiply that by about 150. Sullenberger didn’t have time to. His time was spent adjusting the descent as best he could and aiming for the water in a way that would miss any vessels in the water (including numerous ferries) and trying for a water impact that wouldn’t rip the plane apart , all in an attempt to minimize loss of life. As an experienced fighter pilot, he had the training required to act under extreme pressure.
“Will there be anything else or are you ready for your bill? “
Imagine what was going through the minds of those on land who once again saw a plane coming in low over the Hudson River, as one did seven and a half years go. For a split second, how many were instantly thrown back to September 11, 2001?
Sullenberger did his job flawlessly as did the rest of the crew under his direction. The flight attendants had done their job before takeoff, explaining how under each seat was a safety jacket that can be inflated. The seat bottom could also be used as a floatation device. We’ve all heard the drill. How many people pay attention to it? How many people who are flying today will pay attention?
When the plane hit the water, everything went according to training, because the flight crew did their jobs as well as Sullenberger did his.
Emergency exits were opened, slides inflated. Some people slid into the water while some managed to step out onto the wings. Ferries, which were perilously close during the landing, now were objects of rescue, throwing down life preserves and lowering boats to retreive those in the water.
A miracle? Not really. Maybe it was a miracle that Captain Chesley B. Sullenberger was the pilot yesterday. But it was hard work by the flight crew, combining their professional training, years of experience, and the ability to remain calm under duress. It was excellent engineering in the design of the plane so it could withstand the harsh water landing. And, just as importantly, it was informed passengers following instructions from a professional crew of flight attendents which minimized any panic. All of this combined to effect the spectacular ending to what surely could have been a tragic and sizable loss of life.
Miracle? That’s debatable. But there’s no debate on this: Give Captain Sullenberger, his crew ,and the flight attendants their due. They performed magnificently. Hmmm… some might say THEY performed a miracle.
I’ll have to think about that over a cup of coffee.