Sullenberger and Haynes: Cut From the Same Cloth

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As we tend to pass news assignments back and forth at AVweb, I have been drifting in and out of the USAir 1549 story. But as I've covered it from a distance, I've had this nagging feeling: I think I know this guy, Sullenberger. I met him somewhere. When I saw his interview with Katie Couric on 60 Minutes, I thought: I really know this guy.

But I don't. I was channeling Al Haynes, whom I saw speak about 10 years ago at an aviation event I had organized. Haynes, you'll recall, was the Captain of United 232, a DC-10, which suffered an uncontained fan failure enroute from Denver to Chicago on July 19, 1989. The shrapnel took out the DC-10's entire hydraulic system, dealing Haynes a hand every bit as ugly as Sullenberger's. With the able assistance of his FO and a dead heading Captain, Haynes managed a survivable landing at Sioux City, Iowa. Of 256 aboard, 184 survived.

To his everlasting credit, Haynes' real heroism began after the crash. He went on the road for years, skillfully weaving his specific experience during the Flight 232 crash into a riveting narrative on aviation safety in general. It was, he said, his way of giving back to the aviation community what he could not give it on July 19, 1989: 256 survivors. Haynes said, at the time, that he remained troubled by the accident and constantly wondered if there was something he could have done, some overlooked decision that would have saved all aboard. I can only describe his devotion to the memory of those who perished in 232 with one word: spiritual.

I flashed on this while watching Sullenberger describe USAir 1549. He too said he worries that he could have done something more, even though the survival of everyone on that Airbus rates as one of the most remarkable accident outcomes in aviation history. Toward the end of the interview, when Couric asked the inevitable question about being a hero, here's what Sullenberger said when asked how he felt about that.

"I don't feel comfortable embracing it. But I don't want to deny it. I don't want to diminish their thankful feeling toward me by telling them that they're wrong. I am beginning to understand why they might feel that way. Something about this episode has captured people's imagination. I think they want good news. They want to feel hopeful again. If I can help in that way, I will," he said.

Al Haynes said the same thing, perhaps in different words. Like Haynes, Sullenberger is clearly a student of the science of aviation safety. He has given the subject more than a passing glance. I suspect he is soon to continue the remarkable work Haynes began.

Comments (13)

I think any competant and experienced pilot, especially one with Sulley's experience would have done essentially the same thing. What is still somewhat surprising to me is the perception of the general public that an aircraft won't fly if it looses all of it's engines. Sulley pointed this out (subtlety) and the outcome demonstrated it. I think his glider experience probably helped. But we need to do a better job of educating the public about aviation and how safe it can be.

Posted by: CLIFF HANSON | February 9, 2009 8:26 AM    Report this comment

Captain Sully did exactly the right thing; he flew the airplane all the way to the ground. A true dead-stick glide has much more drag than most would expect, so he did exactly the right thing in using whatever resources are at hand and not trying to stretch the glide. I really wish he wouldn't blame himself, or second-guess anything, it was wonderful. Thank you Captain Sully, and I salute you for preventing my sister from being a widow and for saving my nieces and nephew's father. May God bless you and your family.

Posted by: A Richie | February 9, 2009 9:17 AM    Report this comment

When I saw the flight path that Sully took to the Hudson it reminded me of the final turn of a fighter overhead pattern. The videos of the turning A320 in a high descent rate and the requirement to be very nose high, wings level and "on speed" was what fighter pilots try to achieve in their landing approaches.

Having flown and instructed in fighters we tried to emphasize these parameters to our students. When Sully looked over and down he had to have recognized that he was flashing back to his military experience some 30+ years prior landing a heavy F4 that was coming around the turn with his VVI pegged full down and a very narrow envelope to touch down in.

His correct decision to get the tail in the water first, and stay wings level was fighter landing 101. You landed in a crab and you landed in the buffet. The violence in the back was all that energy going into the airframe back there. Every time a rivet popped it sacrificed itself so that same energy didn't go into a passenger. This was the aviation equivalent of a crush zone in cars.

I don't know if Sully even considered that in the few seconds he had to setup his landing he was reverting back to dancing on the rudders and nursing his old Phantom to the runway.

I was lucky enough to be in the soaring program at the AF Academy and then went on to fly fighters including the F4. That early indoctrination in flying with your head out of the cockpit served Sully, his crew and those passengers well.

Posted by: Ben Bosma | February 9, 2009 9:29 AM    Report this comment

I know it is trivial, but did anyone notice that the controllers and crew used three different flight numbers on the tapes? 1529, 1549, and 1539-some even before the engine failure. Just an interesting observation I find ironic in this age of making sure about call signs to prevent confusion, runway incursions, etc........

Posted by: SCOTT PETERS | February 9, 2009 12:24 PM    Report this comment

Let's get something straight about Capt. Al Haynes. What happened at Soiux City happened DESPITE Al Haynes, NOT because of him. His knowledge of his aircraft systems was so poor that he did NOT realize that he had lost all of his flight controls. He thought he still had "some" control of the aircraft with the yoke. In fact, he ordered his copilot to grab his own useless yoke to assist in "controlling" the plane that way. They both did this all the way to impact. It was Denny Finch (a United flight instructor who did NOT a hold a line captain bid) who managed to get that DC-10 to the airport DESPITE the efforts of Capt Haynes. In fact, as they approached the threshold, Capt Haynes called for Denny to chop the power to slow the plane. Denny, even at this late moment, had to counter Capt Haynes by NOT chopping the throttles while STILL trying to convince Haynes that it was the THROTTLES and not the flight controls that were steering the plane. After post-crash enlightenment, Al Haynes, himself, readily admitted that he might as well have "grabbed one of the toilet seats" in his efforts to steer the plane for all the good he was doing in the cockpit. Naturally, "hero worship" has precluded this fact from being publicized. All of the passengers who survived (and the crewmembers who survived, including Al Haynes, himself) owe their lives to Denny Finch. In actuality, Al Haynes was just along for the ride. (You can confirm these facts with Al Haynes and Denny Finch.)

Posted by: Carl Jordan | February 9, 2009 2:33 PM    Report this comment

Good Grief Mr. Jordan! I think you're way, indeed WAY out of line, even if your claims might be true. Americans get an all-too-rare chance to cheer a positive outcome, and Paul rightfully compares Captain Sully's awesome humility to that of Captain Al Haines. You come along and try to turn this into a roast of Al Haines behind his back?

I'd happily fly with either or both of them any day, and would learn all I could from them. Not you. You appear to think you know it all already.

Mr. Jordan, if you want to hijack this thread and smear Al Haines to assuage your own insecurities, I suggest you get your own forum.

Posted by: Bruce Liddel | February 10, 2009 1:59 PM    Report this comment

I know that the truth hurts, but I didn't know that it hurts some folks THIS much! Nor did I know that telling the truth was "out of line." But, I guess that might be the case, these days. (Too many politicians have set the tone the other way, I guess.) Once a myth has been propogated, it seems to be "against the rules" to try to set things straight. Oh well, at least I tried. I guess I've now been chastised for doing so.

Posted by: Carl Jordan | February 10, 2009 2:08 PM    Report this comment

Here's some truth for you Carl Jordan. UA232 and the 184 souls on board who survived were saved during the initial moments after the hydraulics failed. At 37,000 ft. that plane wanted to roll on its' belly because they were in a right turn when the flight controls froze after the fan exploded and sliced the hydraulic lines. Denny my favorite letter and word is "I" Fitch was nowhere near that cockpit when that plane was saved from certain free falling disaster after Al Haynes used the THROTTLE to power up the right engine and level the plane. Carl show some class and stop the blame game because if you don't then someone like me will come along and accuse Denny "I" Fitch of coughing up a major fur ball at the worst time possible when he couldn't hold the line and drove the right wing and landing gear into the Sioux Gateway asphalt.
Al Haynes gave a lesson on crisis/cockpit management during those 45 minutes of hell. Always remember one thing Carl, Denny "I" Fitch was in that cockpit and on those throttles because the CAPTAIN made use of all available resources at his disposal and PUT HIM THERE. It's amazing how the revisionist history from the "I" camp continues after all these years. So glad I stopped by so I could set the record straight.

Posted by: Mark Simmons | February 10, 2009 4:19 PM    Report this comment

One or more thoughts Carl regarding your "useless yoke" comment. I would ask just how useless were those yokes if the crew manually threw them balls to the wall left after the explosion and held them there manually (physically a very very hard thing to do) to counteract the planes right lean?? The plane never rolled over right though it continually wanted to, the right lean while never getting better did not get considerably worse and a jumbo jet without hydraulic fluid flew under some semblence of control for 45 minutes while descending down from 37,000 feet. Even your hero Denny "I" Fitch has said "I don't know" when asked if the yokes were rendered completely useless after the hydraulics failed.
The rule of thumb in a problematic airplane is better the devil you know, i.e. do not change a thing you're doing unless you KNOW the outcome of that change beforehand.
What Capt. Haynes knew was his plane was flying allbeit quite gingerly with the yokes held hard left and powering with the throttles to maneuver.
To have let go of the yokes without knowing how that would have affected the performance of the aircraft would have been incredibly irresponsible.
That's why Haynes never let go and it's why he put Fitch and his two free hands on the throttles.
Suppose UA232 got even as little as a 1% benefit from those yokes held hard left the entire way. That 1% was the difference between making the airfield or hitting the 4 lane highway right before it.

Posted by: Mark Simmons | February 10, 2009 6:18 PM    Report this comment

Paul with all this fun I've been having with Carl I forgot to address your article. Agree completely about the feel of familiarity you speak of regarding Sully. Amazing how these episodes (USAir 1549 and UA232) were 20 years apart yet it's like we're seeing the same pilot saying the same things. There is simply no substitute for experience in the cockpit and it shows when these dire circumstances arise. I hope Sully is ready for his hero status, i.e. the handshakes from strangers in airports, receiving handwritten thank you notes sent to the cockpit from his future passengers, et al. I recall reading where Capt. Haynes went through that very thing in the 2 years before he retired. Btw I believe Haynes is still active on the public speaking circuit though I'm sure age as slowed his schedule down quite a bit. Very cool how he spent years on speaking tour yet never wanted to be paid for it. Simply asked for a donation to 1 of his 4 favorite charities. A rare breed. Recall reading an article fairly recently where he cites personal lessons learned from 232 that have helped him cope with some really tragic losses in his personal life over the past few years. What's so impressive about Al Haynes is that he's a better man than he was a pilot and he was a damn good pilot.

Posted by: Mark Simmons | February 10, 2009 7:52 PM    Report this comment

Like little father's better than your father. Does anyone ever notice how these forums become so mean. Tit for tat. Enough!

Posted by: Jody Keydash | February 19, 2009 10:36 AM    Report this comment

Well said, Jody. I have been guilty of it myself. As an aspiring commercial pilot I look up to the examples set by all the pilots mentioned here. Additionally, and without diminishing them in any way, I am trying to teach myself to see their decisions and actions as being normal - that this could happen to me one day and that responding appropriately is just what I am going to do. The humble and thoughtful way these people have dealt with the aftermath of their exploits contributes to this while further increasing my opinion of them.

Posted by: John Hogan | February 22, 2009 9:20 AM    Report this comment

Sorry Jody but I think bomb throwers always need to be responded to. Ok Ok I did take great delight in throwing a couple back at Carl but he did deserve it. lol
What a guy like Carl doesn't know are the little things that went on with UA232. Like how Fitch offered up his help 20 minutes or so after the engine exploded and hydraulics were lost NOT because the jet was out of control (it wasn't and amazingly never was until they hit the ground) but because as Fitch was trying to reassure a nervous looking FA that losing an engine was no big deal for a DC-10 she was informing him that the plane has lost its' 3 hydraulic systems. Only then did Fitch realize the severity of the problem and sent that same FA to the cockpit with his offer to help, an offer that was accepted by Capt. Haynes. Carl would have us believe Denny knew the plane was in trouble from the get go, he put on his Superman outfit as he broke down the cockpit door and wrestled the throttles of an out of control DC-10 away from the incompetent Al Haynes. lol Uh NOT!!
Another interesting fact is how Fitch came to be on the throttles. When the number 2 engine blew it jammed that throttle and froze it in an upright position. That made maneuvering the all important right throttle (plane wanted to roll right constantly) very very difficult for the person sitting in the left seat. So Fitch and his two free hands were put on the throttles.

Posted by: Mark Simmons | February 22, 2009 2:36 PM    Report this comment

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