It’s so easy to love and admire a hero. Isn’t it inspiring when someone who seems to have been groomed his/her whole life for one particular moment comes through and, in the nick of time, saves the day?
The Uncompromised Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger III safely landed his Airbus A320 on the Hudson River on January 15, 2009, saving the lives of all 155 on board. If that weren’t enough, after everyone seemed to be safely out of the sinking plane, the captain walked the plane’s length twice to be certain no one was left behind before he too got off the plane. Storybook.
If you don’t already know the story, US Airways flight 1549 climbed up and away from New York's La Guardia Airport en route for Charlotte, NC. Only 95 seconds into the flight, a flock of Canada geese pelted the plane in what aviators call “bird slurry,” where a plane’s engines instantly liquefy the birds.
Though there are many more wildlife/aircraft incidents per year than we might want to know, it is relatively rare. So, though shocking for a pilot, it doesn’t often amount to much. This day, however, was different: The damage was, “sudden, complete and symmetrical,” as Sullenberger later put it.
A “double bird strike” had disabled and shut down both engines. Sullenberger had a 150,000-pound glider and 155 lives in his hands. With razor sharp precision he surveyed his options to return to La Guardia (too risky—if he didn’t make it, he’d risk the lives of everyone onboard and thousands on the ground), attempt a landing in Teterboro Airport in New Jersey (he couldn’t reach it) or ditch in the Hudson River. With meticulous control of his disabled aircraft, Sullenberger made a textbook water landing, saw to it that everyone safely left the plane and found himself thrust into the hero’s spotlight.
Of course anybody would want to do the same. But that’s the point. Everybody wants to be a hero. Everybody wants to feel successful in his or her own way. But it was Sullenberger’s skill and who he was as a person--qualities that evolved over the decades he spent flying, training and in personal reflection--that made what he did possible. We all want what we want. Some do what it takes to make it happen; others live off of “good intentions”.
Courage is decisive; it’s doing what must be done. And, really, it’s doing what others won’t do (what they’re unwilling to do). This is exactly what Sullenberger did.
No, not on January 15, 2009. That was just the return on years of investment. Sullenberger put it best when he said, “One way of looking at this might be that for 42 years I've been making small, regular deposits in this bank of experience: education and training. And on January 15, the balance was sufficient so that I could make a very large withdrawal."
What makes this man worthy of our appreciation and admiration--what makes him a hero--is not how he acted on that day. It’s the 42 years of investment he made in himself and in people he’d never intended to meet. It’s the Enthusiasm he exudes, his Courage to act, his Endurance in his efforts and his Integrity he engages life with. He lives The Standards of The Uncompromised. That’s why he’s a hero.
Though there may never be accolades, flashing bulbs or a red carpet in our future, The Uncompromised Chesley Sullenberger is living proof that we too can become heroes simply by living The Standards faithfully, day in and day out, right where we are.