Thursday, February 05, 2009

Cactus 1549 And Capt Sullenberger

The ditching in the Hudson has been called miraculous and while it is an astonising thing the critics of the term miraculous are correct. Passenger jet aircraft are designed to keep air in, which is more difficult than keeping water out, they are designed to sustain the stresses of turbulence, and they are to stay together during very rough landings so the aircraft should be able to survive landing in relatively smooth water and float for awhile. It should be able to survive if it is put down at the proper angle and at a survivable speed. That part is the real
kicker, a passeneger jet whose engines have ingested birds becomes a very tricky piece of equipement with absolutely no second tries. This aircraft is coming down and there is only a question of how hard. It has a "glide path" of sorts, rocks do worse, but it isn't a low speed aircraft and it needs a large volume of air passing over the wings to have meaningful lift and that means speed.

Captain Sullenberger called LaGuardia tower:
"Aaah, this is Cactus 1549," he said. "We lost thrust in both engines. We are turning back toward LaGuardia."
There is conversation about LaGuardia runways before Sullenberger asks about New Jersey and Teeterboro is offered.
"We can't do it."
"Which runway at Teeterboro do you want?"
"We're going in the Hudson"
Matter of factly stated.

From a life spent living near edges I can state that nothing is gained by panic, which is simple enough to say, another thing in practice. The more people who depend on the outcome and the more complicated the situation the more difficult keeping calm becomes. I have had ordinary circumstances turn drastic, quite unforseeably drastic, with an entire family depending on my skill and decisions to keep us all alive. Do not misunderstand, this was serious enough that time dilation ocurred and any wrong move meant fatality. Since I'm writing this, you know how it worked out.

Capt. Sullenberger had hundreds of lives in his hands, his passengers, crew, and anyone in the way on the ground. He had in his hands a very large, heavy, complicated and fatally wounded aircraft and an entire lack of choices, one thing to do. Landing an aircraft is the most difficult part of flying one, landing a large one on water is the gold standard of difficulty. Film from a pier security camera shows the Airbus touching water, laying down on it, and sliding. The crew likened it to a hard landing with no bounce.

This is what it took to let the aircraft perform as designed, the calmness and skill to do exactly what the situation called for. Heroism as an adverb has been devalued in recent years and I don't care to play a role in that, this was the immaculate performance of your job in the face odds. Walking the length of a potential watery tomb twice to check for passengers may qualify, but I think it is enough to state that doing your job exactly as it should be done in these circumstances deserves our admiration.

We don't need to make up catagories for Capt. Sullenberger or mangle English, we can admire and praise his actions and his crew's actions for exactly what they are, absolute professionalism and the exact fulfillment of their job descriptions, despite anyother circumstances.

Thank you Capt Sully for demonstrating just what it does mean to do your job.

1 comment:

Patty Mooney said...

This is well said.