All Sully, All The Time
This Friday will be the one year anniversary of US Airways' ditching of Flight 1549 into the Hudson and I just realized that I have contracted a fully metastasized, CDC-certified case of Sully fatigue. The only known treatment is…you guessed it, disgorge more pixels about Sully.
The occasion is TLC's documentary on the Flight 1549 ditching which is making the rounds this week. Check for a schedule on your local cable outlet via this link.
I have to wonder if this is TLC's penance for visiting upon the world the horrid Jon and Kate Gosselin. If so, I'd assign maybe one more round of Hail Marys, not because this new program isn't worthy, but because Jon & Kate Plus 8 was actually a crime against nature.
The doc is called Brace for Impact and as these sorts of things go, I thought it was well above average. Just as it was about to descend into the excruciatingly maudlin, it veered away and we learned some new tidbit. Harrison Ford narrates the piece ably—you'd expect that from a $20 million-per-pix actor—and I found myself wondering if he flew the helicopter used to retrace 1549's path out of LaGuardia. All you see is the back of a gray head in the right seat.
Brace for Impact doesn't add much of substance to the record, but there were interesting vignettes. Just as the icky warning light was about to glow as Sully and wife Lorrie were walking down a country road hand in hand and she asked why all this happened, Sully pulled the breaker. "Because I was on that flight, on that day." No God has plans for me, no divine intervention, just wrong place, wrong time. Let us thank the man for that, if nothing else. Further, I get the strong sense that Sullenberger knows that all this adulation is about us, not him.
One detail I noticed that no one seems to correct. Sullenberger has said on several occasions that the first thing he did was to say "Mayday, Mayday, Mayday." But if he did that, he didn't the key the mic, for the words appear neither in the transcript nor on ATC tapes. As far as I know, the CVR transcript isn't public yet.
There was a segment on flying sailplanes at the Air Force Academy, from whence Sullenberger graduated in 1973. When asked if that glider experience had any bearing on the outcome of Flight 1549, Sullenberger said he didn't know. I'll take that as a no. We in the aviation press have played up this angle to prop up our evergreen notion that learning to fly gliders makes you a better pilot. Personally, I've never subscribed. It makes you a glider pilot and a high-aspect glider has as much in common with a 75-ton fly-by-wire airliner as a go-cart has with an Indy car.
One of the interesting visuals was of the hulk of the A320, sitting wingless in a plastic tent on what seems to be the Jersey side of the river. Although the pans were too brief, you get a passing view of the structural damage done to the tail during touchdown. It looks considerable, suggesting that if the touchdown speed had been a few knots higher or the angle steeper, the outcome might not have been so rosy.
Although the word "incalculable odds" was used in the narration, the percentages were actually in favor of survival of some of the occupants. And not just because of Sullenberger's skill. The water was calm, it was a clear day and there was plenty of boat traffic to effect rapid rescue. What was totally improbable is that everyone would survive both the impact and the cold water. The law of averages suggests that some percentage would die because…just because.
That leads to what was the best part of the documentary for me. And that was the number of people who were not affected because no one died. At a summer gathering of some of the survivors, the participants drew a family tree of all the people who didn't have to get a call explaining that a father, a mother, a brother or an uncle died in a plane crash. The interconnections ran to the hundreds, but to the tens of thousands when all 155 survivors are considered.
We don't think much about that, chiefly because the crew of Flight 1549 did something that seems so rare today: Its job.