Janice’s Review Blog

Pilot recounts life, miracle landing

Posted on: June 7, 2012

On Jan. 15, 2009, with people reeling from a bad economy and with so many other negative things happening in the world, a miracle occurred on the Hudson River when US Airways Flight 1549 loaded with 155 passengers and crew landed safely on the river after Canadian geese hit and disabled the plane’s engines. The book, “Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters,” written by Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot of US Airways Flight 1549, and with the help of Jeffrey Zaslow tells the story of what happened that day and how Sullenberger prepared to pull off that miracle throughout his life.

"Highest Duty" recounts the life of Capt. Chesley Sullenberger and his miracle Flight 1549 landing on the Hudson River.

“Highest Duty” recounts the life of Capt. Chesley Sullenberger and his miracle Flight 1549 landing on the Hudson River.

It’s a story filled with all the great things America offered Sullenberger and how he took advantage of them to work with his crew and save a plane full of people against overwhelming circumstances. Sullenberger shares his life, the work ethic his parents instilled in him as he grew up in Dennison, Texas, people who helped him along the way and his family and work life.

When he knew at the age of five that he wanted to be a pilot, he worked to accomplish whatever it took to reach his goal. He started to take flying lessons at age 16 from Mr. L. T. Cook Jr., a crop duster near his home and a former instructor with the federal government’s Civilian Pilot Training Program before World War II. On Oct. 28, 1968, Sullenberger acquired his private pilot’s certificate.

After Sullenberger landed US Airways Flight 1549 safely, he received many emails, and among them he writes one from Cook’s widow “lifted his spirits.” She wrote, “L. T. wouldn’t be surprised, but he certainly would be pleased and proud.”

Upon graduating from high school, Sullenberger received a Naval Academy appointment, even though his first choice was for the Air Force Academy, from Congressman Ray Roberts, but as it turned out, the student appointed to the Air Force Academy declined it, and Sullenberger stepped into the spot. He began his education and training at the Air Force Academy on June 23, 1969 and graduated in 1973. He was also named “Outstanding Cadet in Airmanship.”

Throughout the book, Sullenberger talks about his wife, Lorrie, and shares how he met her and how they adopted their two daughters, Kate and Kelly. He laments the time he spends away from his family as he continues to fly and gives examples of the sacrifices flight crews make in their personal lives to accommodate their flying careers. He also tells stories of how he goes out of his way to help passengers with problems because he believes in representing the airline in the best way possible and also in helping people when they need it.

His daughter Kate asked Sullenberger what integrity meant. He said, “Integrity means doing the right thing even when it’s not convenient.”

Kelly, Sullenberger’s youngest daughter, once asked him, What’s the best job in the world?” He answered, “It’s the job you would do even if you didn’t have to.”

Sullenberger shares the accolades from the success of the safe landing of Flight 1549 with his crew: First Officer Jeffrey Skiles and Flight Attendants Doreen Walsh, Donna Dent and Sheila Dail. He’s proud of the way they used their training to work as a team.

It’s a wonderful, uplifting book, but at times, requires tissues to dry the tears that come as Sullenberger describes various incidents. I highly recommend this book. It shows the positive aspects of living in this country and how working hard to achieve one’s goals still brings about miracles.

Photo by Janice Semmel

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