Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

An American Hero Who Knew Safety Means Survival!

 On January 15th, America held its breath as an Airbus A320 came in for a landing – not on a runway, but on top of New York City’s Hudson River!  The US Airways flight had lost power in both engines – apparently due to a flock of birds hitting the aircraft – and was forced to make an emergency landing in the Big Apple’s most famous waterway.

Casualties?  A total of none.  It was a miracle – and the kind of spiritual pick-me-up that was just what America needed.

I call myself Mr. Prepared, but probably the pilot who successfully saved all 155 passengers and crew members on the flight, Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger III, deserves that title more than I do!  Sullenberger has spent most of his professional life working towards raising preparation and safety standards across the airline industry.  And most observers agree, he was the one man who could make that kind of extraordinary crash landing – and make sure everyone on board survived!

One of the passengers, Beth McHugh, gave credit where credit was due, saying, “I just can’t believe how well he did.  We’re all alive because of him.”  A former colleague, Peter Goelz, simply said, “It was an amazing piece of airmanship.”

Sullenberger’s commitment to the people on board his plane didn’t stop after the Hudson River splashdown, either.  The pilot walked through the plane twice as it was gradually sinking to make sure everyone got out safely, before he allowed himself to be rescued with everyone else.

This is one 57 year-old pilot who has demonstrated his commitment to ensuring safety standards over the years.  As president and CEO of Safety Reliability Methods, Inc., a company that he himself began, he’s worked to provide emergency management, safety planning and performance monitoring to the aviation business.  He also served as the Air Line Pilots Association safety chairman, speaks internationally on airline safety and collaborates with the Center for Catastrophic Risk Management at Berkeley University.

In other words, this is the exact right man you’d want in the cockpit of a plane that suddenly lost all jet power mid-air over New York City.  Sullenberger knew his options were limited – and he made sure to put the plane down in a part of the Hudson where he knew rescuers could reach the downed 81- ton aircraft quickly.  The river waters were freezing cold and he knew they would need emergency help fast. 

After logging over 19,000 hours in the air as a pilot, it only took the minute after he told his passengers, “Brace for impact,” for Sullenberger to become a national hero.  All of a sudden, this respected but mostly anonymous pilot was an internet sensation, with 10,000 people joining his Facebook fan page created by an admirer. 

But there was one person who was well aware of his amazing abilities all along. “This is the Sully I know,” Sullenberger’s wife Lorrie told CNN.  “I always knew this is how he would react. So, to me, this is not something unusual. It’s the man I know to be the consummate professional.”

Being prepared for disaster sometimes seems a waste of time to many of us, because we don’t think we’ll ever have to deal with a worst-case scenario.  But if Chesley Sullenberger hadn’t prepared – and prepared well – 155 people might not have had such a happy ending on January 15th.  So let’s all take a page from Sully’s book – and put some time and thought into our own emergency preparedness!

Until next time, be Smart!  Be Safe!  Be Prepared! This is Mr. Prepared, bringing Awareness to Preparedness!