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Why People Like Flight Captains Sullenberger and Skiles Matter

Last night I watched the movie, “Sully,” on DVD. It’s based on the heroic story of Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and Jeffrey Skiles, co-captains of the New York to Charlotte Flight 1549. Their miraculous belly landing of the US Airways jet on January 15, 2009, afloat the Hudson River, and the preservation of 155 precious lives still raises a lot of interest. And concerns.

 

What struck me was the courage, commitment and calm that both men showed after their hair-raising experience. The way that they handled themselves when being forced to defend their decision before a roomful of 70-plus National Transportation Safety Board, airline, legal, and even pilots union investigators.

 

Sullenberger’s and Skile’s clear-thinking and precise account of the second-by-second steps that they took re-demonstrated they did the right thing. They did the only thing available to two men of such character. Two men that cared so much for human life.

 

A FEW QUESTIONS FOR US TO ASK OURSELVES…

 

  1. How many of us, when pushed against the wall, would face a huge firing squad of big-shot “bosses”?
  2. How many of us would stand our ground, and force these power moguls to scrutinize their own expertise, calculations and conclusions? And then to correct their decision?
  3. How many of us would stand firm, and defend our values, our principles, against all odds?

 

Sullenberger’s and Skiles’s heroic landing, then their courageous defense of their decision, remain close to our family’s heart.

 

Charles “Chuck” Basham flew for Eastern Airlines for over 30 years. His wife, “Mindie,” my mother’s cousin, was a stewardess with Eastern for over ten years. In fact, that’s how Chuck and Mindie met.

 

Anyway, Chuck flew bombers in World War II. When he came home to the U.S., Eastern snatched him up because of his steel-strong nerves. His ability to fly in, through, under, and around any crisis. And survive!

 

The theory of major airline owners back in the 1940s and 1950s? If you could handle a military plane in war conditions, you could handle a commercial plane in friendly skies.

 

Still, Chuck could share stories of several very close calls that he had flying the New York to Miami run.

 

One concerned a near in-flight collision with another jet airplane, that was experiencing mechanical problems. Another concerned a severe lighting storm, 20,000 feet over the Atlantic coastline. A third concerned a near side-swipe by a large corporation-owned Cessna.

 

In each of these situations, Chuck had to face a review board similar to that faced by Sullenberger and Skiles.

 

“It was never easy to do. But it was necessary,” he said, “to get them to set the record straight.”

 

Chuck showed the same calmness and clear head on the ground. After he retired.

 

In 1993, he and Mindie opened their doors and provided a safe place for my sister to stay. For as long as she needed. They put their Fort Lauderdale intercoastal home, and themselves, at great risk in doing so.

 

Without a doubt, they saved my sister’s life, physically and psychologically.

 

It’s twenty-four years later. Both Chuck and Mindie are gone. My sister survives. And, thanks to the courage and quick-thinking of those skilled in-flight relatives, our entire family has enjoyed a much longer life together.

 

And, as Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger stated, at the end of the film, to a group of the real-life Flight 1549 survivors, in a hangar in 2016, that’s what it was really about. All of the spouses, children, grandchildren, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents that had survived, too.

 

Thank you, flight captains and crews, that do your best to keep us safe in-plane, in-flight, and on-the-ground. And against some odds that even you never talk about. To anyone!

 

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Stay safe, everyone. And, do your part, to live safe, too. RDH

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Many thanks for checking in at “Painting with Bob.”

Copyright 2017. Robert D. Hajtovik. All rights reserved.

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