3 Lessons from the US Airways Hero Pilot Chesley Sullenberger

By , SparkPeople Blogger
"I was sure I could do it."

That was the response of US Airways Flight 1549 Pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger during an interview with Katie Couric on CBS' 60 MInutes on Sunday.

Sullenberger safely landed a flight from New York to North Carolina in the Hudson River after a bird blew out the plane's engines on Jan. 15.

All 155 passengers survived, and Sullenberger has been called a hero.
Thanks to his training and experience, he knew he could safely land the plane, he just never imagined he would ever have to do so.

"I had this expectation that my career would be one in which I didn't crash an airplane."

Those comments and others he made are reminiscent of the journey we're all on. Some of us arrive to SparkPeople on a downward spiral. We're hurdling toward Earth at alarming fast rates, calling mayday, and heading for a crash landing.

Heading for crash landing in life can be just as terrifying as heading for one in the air. Thankfully, that pilot and each of us has the resources to avert catastrophe.

We can distill three lessons from that pilot:
  1. Rely on your training and experience.
    "I needed to touch down with the wings exactly level. I needed to touch down with the nose slightly up. I needed to touch down at a descent rate that was survivable. And I needed to touch down just above our minimum flying speed but not below it. And I needed to make all these things happen simultaneously."

    Sullenberger had a tough job to do. He was stressed. But he knew that he could do it. He believed in himself and remembered his training and extensive experience.

    "The physiological reaction I had to this was strong and I had to force myself to use my training and force calm on the situation," he told Couric.
    When you're in a tough spot, either staring down a cinnamon roll the size of your head or fighting the urge to skip a workout, you don't just give up. You think of the lessons you've learned. Eating that cinnamon roll will cost you 37 laps of the mall. You think of the experience you've gained. Working out makes you feel great, and it will improve your mood.

    You have all the tools you need to succeed. When you're in a tough spot, take a deep breath and remember how far you've come--and all you've learned along the way.

  2. Seek help from your support system.
    Though Sullenberger was the one in control of the plane as it went down, he wasn't alone. He had a co-pilot, several flight attendants, and the control tower to help him. The co-pilot was there to support him. The flight attendants, upon hearing the warning to "brace for landing," immediately began giving instructions to passengers to ensure their safety. The control tower kept other airplanes apprised of the situation and helped Sullenberger find a place to land.

    When you face disaster, you're not alone either. You have friends, family, and the entire SparkPeople Community on your side. Whether it's reading an article when you hit a plateau, reaching out to a SparkBuddy when you feel guilty for eating too much, or setting a SparkStreak to stay on track, you've got the resources you need. You're not doing this on your own. It's like those cell phone commercials. We're your network!

  3. Create Plans B, C, and even D.
    Sullenberger's first plan was to turn back to LaGuardia Airport, but he knew they couldn't make it. Then he tried to land in Teterboro Airport in, N.J., but knew that was too far. The Hudson River was his only choice. He didn't look back and focused on putting that plan into action.

    Plans change. Life happens. When rainy weather keeps you from your daily walk, you don't watch TV. You put in a workout DVD instead. When a conference call runs into lunch, you don't reach for chocolate. You raid your stash of healthy snacks. When you gain a pound after overindulging with friends, you don't give up. You work harder for the rest of the week.

    You have contingency plans. You're ready for whatever the world brings you.

When Sullenberger woke up on Jan. 15, he didn't think he would have to avert disaster. He thought it would be just another day. When you wake up on your bad days, you think the same thing. It's going to be just another day.
The next time you're heading for a crash landing, remember that you, like that heroic pilot, have all that you need to save lives. You're your own hero, and you're capable of greatness each and every day.

On a side note, the pilot's wife, fitness expert Lorrie Sullenberger, is doing her part to Spread the Spark! Her website and business aim to "extend a supportive hand to every woman to help her find fun in exercise everyday!"

What did you think about this story? If you had been in Pilot Sullenberger's shoes, could you have remained calm? Have you faced a similar "crash landing" in your life?

Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints


Thank you for posting this article, Stepfanie! BTW, Mrs. Sullenberger's website has changed to the following: www.lorrie-sullenberger.com /

Much respect!

On her site, Lorrie Sullenberger echoes the take-away you yourself drew from her husband's experience: For me personally, the media glare and invitations to such venues as The Presidential Inauguration and Buckingham Palace that followed my husband's heroic actions validated my long-held conviction that we should always try to be prepared—for anything.

SparkPeople is making it possible for me to prepare to enjoy the of my life with increasing fitness! Report
I enjoyed the story-thanks Report
Thanks for sharing this story Report
Great analogy and a great blog! Sully deserves all the accolades he gets. What a wonderful, modest, heroic man! Report
Thanks for the great story sharing life lessons from the crash that can be applied to our lives. In the last 10 years, I have faced many mini crashes with my health. The latest one began last Sunday so this article appeared at the perfect time to encourage me to keep going. Report
He's my hero Report
I had never thought of it in terms of a "crash landing" but that is a good analogy for how I felt when I looked at my mother in a wheelchair at a Concert and realized that I was hurtling toward my own wheelchair. I took control of my Life (plane) and found Curves and SparkPeople. And my life has not been the same since, Thank God!!!! Report
Thank you for the reminders to keep our lives on track. Every day is a special one - just because we got to live it. Your article was inspiring and so down to earth. Thank you. Report
Thank you for taking the time to share. Very inspirational. Report
Such a wonderful story; he seems to be such a humble self assured man. Good tie in to Sparkpeople program
Very helpful reminders! Nice way to start my day! Report
What a great blog! Thank you! Report
Very motivational story. I intend to revisit this article again....;-) Report
Great article--and good commentary!
I particularly like the analogy that each of us faces 'disasters' based on our life experience (maybe not always true, but more often than not...). We HAVE the experience to cope; it's there, inside us, ready. No one wants to be measured the way Capt. Sullenberger was, but each of us can be as ready as our living has prepared us to be. Report
This is a very inspirational story, thank you so much for sharing!
As to the question: it is odd, that in my job I can face crisises over crisises and stay focused. Sometimes I think I even prefer the fire-fighting. I know what to do, I know, I am well trained and good in what I am doing and this is, what I am well paid for. But when it comes to food? I cannot move this confidence from the job into my private life. Report
Great info thanks for sharing Report
I have heard his story told several times, but would never have connected it to a healthy living plan. Thanks for having the insight .

Great motivational article. Report
I have heard his story told several times, but would never have connected it to a healthy living plan. Thanks for having the insight .

Great motivational article. Report
I've had some threatened crash landings.

In my teens at the edge of a cliff and I couldn't climb back up. Two Boy Scouts with climbing experience rescued me.

Also in my teens when I had a severe attack of Rheumatoid Arthritis for the first time.

Two divorces, and I worked to maintain a friendship with my exes.

And four years ago, when I heard the words, "Emergency operation." Report
What an amazing hero, and what a great parallel! Report
Great article. I liked the way you tied it in to the challenges we have when faced with food choices. Thanks! Report
This reminds me that discipline in our practice and use of tools is so important. This ability to handle the situation didn't "just happen" - Capt. Sullenberger had to practice and review routines and checklists day after day - he researched and studied even though many times it was probably dull and boring. However, all that practice was well worth it for the "one" time he needed those skills. Good reminder to me that even when I don't want to use the tools and practice the skills I am learning for a healthy lifestyle (because I don't see the "results" or "see the need"), I must discipline myself to do so. There will be that "one" time when I will need them and find that I am ready to handle that tough situation. Report
some realy dedicated people Report
we should be very proud . . . Report
Excellent commentary! This has been a meaningful incident for me for several reasons, and this blog as added even more meaning to it. Thank you for your insights! Report
Thanks, enjoyed the blog. It's nice to let everyone know, God is still in the Miracle business. Report
My boyfriend used to tell me I was the bravest person he knew, in part because I face chronic pain and illness every day of my life. Anyone can be a hero in some small way. Great article! Report
He is indeed hero eventhough I've heard he doesn't think he is. It just goes to show that training and preparation does come through in times of need. This blog showed me that my preparation for my healthy lifestyle changes will become second nature the longer I tend to do them so on my bad days I should fall back on the good patterns I am establishing vs. the old familiar bad habits. Report
I so appreciate all of the 'life-lessons', tidbits and inspired messages, I receive here. This particular one was a good one because it showed use success under pressure of someone who had been 'groomed' for such a situation and REALLY understood the ins and outs of how to survive. I can really appreciate how you tied it back to maintaining a healthy lifestyle as well. Report
I find him an inspiration, and his decision making process can be applied to many areas in life. As I was reading some of the posts, I started to think hmmmm...life or death landing vs. should I stop or walk by the (insert your favorite place here) at the food court. While stopping and having 1 cinnamon role can't compare, I started thinking of how those rolls would add up to enforcing poor eating choices, consuming empty calories and possible downward spirals for many of us. So while the comparison might not be on the same scale (pardon the pun), the basics message is there, at least for me. Report
I remember that the friday before that happenned, I did two hours in the treadmill.
my achievement was that,forever. Excercise is a sacrifice although is for the good of the person.That was my pray, that was my offering.

you are a hero, and it was unique and marvelous.It is an inspiration. Report
That was so inspiring. I can see how our lives are the same, we have chances for failure or to give up. Instead we need to rely on each other and our training thru Spark People. Report
Thank you for the blog. I thought it was very good! One of the many things that impressed me was that the Captain never took full credit for what he did, he always shared with his crew and passangers. He sure is a great example to us all. I thank God for his part in that terrible day too. Report
What a hero!!....He is modest, but he is very consistent in his care for the duties of his profession...we need more people like him ...that care and do their best!! Report
What a wonderful blog. I can see the parallels between what this pilot went through and what we go through in any bump in life's road. Thanks for a great article! Report
The blog was wonderful and the lessons we can learn from it great. Don't get discouraged by negative reports. Being a public speaker myself I use a lot of comparisons. Even Jesus used parables. I am sharing this with the TOPS chapter I attend.
Irene Weight Recorder at a TOPS chapter. Report
Wonderful blog, thank you so much for the link, touched my heart!! Great lessons learned for us through his heroic actions. Good health to all! Report
Great blog Report
Don't get me wrong, I love the Spark. (Can you feel the "but" coming? I'll go with a "yet" just to switch things up.) Yet, I think it's slightly disingenuous to say that Captain S's wife is "Spreading the Spark" with a capital S. She's spreading her spark...but not THE Spark, and that's how the capitalization makes it look (Former newspaper proof reader here.) And whilst I am at it, I agree with Hippichick1 who said: "I think the story about the hero/pilot is wonderful but it's a really big stretch to compare his emergency landing skills to the decision making skills we might use to decide whether or not to eat a cinnamon bun at the mall."

The story is a great one. And it is important to remember those lessons. But/yet I can't find myself fully getting on board with the comparisons offered. Report
Thank God that everyone on that plane got off safely.God was helping the pilot safely land his plane. Everyone on that plane were heros too. This was a great blog. Report
I think the story about the hero/pilot is wonderful but it's a really big stretch to compare his emergency landing skills to the decision making skills we might use to decide whether or not to eat a cinnamon bun at the mall. Report
I had the great honor to serve for 16 years with some outstanding chopper pilots in the US Army. Some of the bravest folk that I have ever met. And all of them relied strongly on preparation and experience; not to mention their senses of duty and honor. But to the last one of them they usually had the audacity to tell me that I was the crazy one for jumping out of a perfectly good helicopter (grin). Report
Thank you for having the YouTube attached. I watched the entire interview which I had missed on television. This event has given hope that we all need right now, and there is one point when Sully and his family are reading letters from well-wishers and a Holocaust survivor's son noted that his father always said "When you save a life, you save a world." Sully met the families of the people on the plane that survived (150 people, plus their spouses, parents and children) and saw how many families stayed whole and strong, probably stronger as a result of his strength of character, decisiveness and ability. He said that his whole life of fighter pilot, 30+ years flying commercial, training pilots, crash investigator had prepared him for this one moment. Amazing!
I can't relate cinnamon buns to this, but I can see keeping my body strong and my mind sharp so that whatever comes my way, I can do my utmost to handle it. It tells me to do my best to be my best, because one never knows when others are dependant on you in a tough situation.
Sully and his crew are real heros. Bravo!! Report
This story is exactly what I needed. Truly inspirational and so right...we can't look back, we move forward, we stay the course!!! Report
Thanks so much for the story Stepf, it was really needed today of all days. I've been in a very bad place for a while now and reading this has given me the motivation, strength and courage I need to brace myself and do what needs to be done. However, I'm going to need my Pilot(God), I'm the co-pilot and the flight attendants(my spark buddies) to help keep me encouraged. Thanks again! Report
I love this story, and can imagine Captain Sully's conversation with himself as he was calmly telling the control tower, "We're going in the Hudson". He must have been mentally putting the brakes on panic and negative talk--- instead automatically checking every option and prioritizing actions instantly as he was trained (and taught others) to do. His cool head saved the day for everyone. He is human, and as all of us have experienced frightening moments, I can imagine he could have given in to fear and negative imagry and even given up as they approached the water. A newer pilot might have done that! Thank God for putting this man in that plane's pilot seat at that time on that day.
With this story, I am reliving a solo flight I had a few years ago when I had a forced landing on my second touch-and-go. Turned out the plane was lower on fuel than we thought, and the engine cut out just after take-off as I was climbing to about 700 feet. After nearly hyperventilating and saying cusswords that would make a sailor blush, I managed to safely put the Cessna down in a no-till cornfield about a half-mile from the airport, just muddying the tires a bit. We'd done the pre-flight together, and my instructor said we had enough fuel because we were just going to do touch-and-go's and then do my solo flight. Others have been upset with my instructor, but I credit him with teaching me how to put the plane down without power and not try to "fix" the problem in the air, and not to try to turn the thing around without power and get back to the runway. I went straight for the level ground ahead. But, I haven't piloted a plane since! Report
Thank you for this wonderful story!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Report
Thank you God for sending a hero to save the lives of many Report
Wonderful blog!
The only thing that I would add is that Sullenberger's confidence came from years of study, hard work, preparation. His belief rested on a firm foundation. So often we shy away from the hard work it takes to develop confidence and ability. He is an incredible role model--deserving of the title "hero." Report
No one knows exactly how they responsed to stress. My stress occurs daily and sometimes I handle it well and others I do not. I feel sometimes I do not let others help and this my be part of my problem. Report
Close email sign up
Our best articles, delivered Join the millions of people already subscribed Get a weekly summary of our diet and fitness advice We will never sell, rent or redistribute your email address.

Magic Link Sent!

A magic link was sent to Click on that link to login. The link is only good for 24 hours.