Mayor Bloomberg introduced “five real American heroes, the crew of US Airways Flight 1549” at City Hall today in a Key to the City ceremony. Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, co-pilot Jeffrey Skiles, and flight attendants Donna Dent, Sheila Dail and Doreen Walsh received their honors for their dramatic Hudson River landing and aftermath in a Blue Room press conference.
Sullenberger, looking slightly pained in the manner of modest people thrust into the spotlight, said, “Much of this since the last three weeks began has been about one person, and I want to correct the record right now,” spotlighting his co-pilot and crew, the first responders, and the passengers.
“I wonder how many parents have named their newborns this month Sully,” said Bloomberg.
Skiles, who had more of an affable, Smilin’ Jack demeanor, said the landing had special “meaning for people in the airline industry… what the country’s been experiencing for the last eight months, we’ve been experiencing for eight years. Layoffs, pay cuts, loss of our retirements.” He said airline people are walking a little taller, being a little prouder when they come to work” because of the event.
Bloomberg threw in an extra token of appreciation for Sullenberger: a copy of the book Sullenberger worried about keeping overdue from Cal State Fresno library while on his adventure, Just Culture: Balancing Safety and Accountability — which, Bloomberg said, “from the title, it sounds like you might have written this.”
Bloomberg talked about “a city full of heroes,” and that as the Flight 1549 crew “were preparing to take off,” the Mayor was preparing for his State of the City speech. The relevance of this, he explained, was that one of Bloomberg’s themes in his speech was that “New Yorkers have always managed to pull together,” and the flight crew did that, as did New York’s “first responders” who “pulled off an amazing rescue… and showed the world why we are the best.”
Though the landing has been called “The Miracle on the Hudson,” said Bloomberg, “there is no miracle without the years of experience” represented by the pilots, and also the crew, who are “not there just to provide drinks and snacks.”
He thanked them for “sparing our city” by not crashing into buildings, and presented each of them with the key to the city of New York. They also get a dinner at Blue Fin, and tickets to Chicago, with which cast Bloomberg once “sang and danced,” he told them.
Since the event Sullenberger has not piloted, but he has flown as a passenger, and said “It quickly felt right at home… I’m looking forward to resuming my profession.” The flight attendants agreed, but for Walsh, who said she was taking it “day by day.”
Sullenberger was asked if he picked the spot because of the proximity of boats, and was “very happily surprised at the quickness and efficiency of the resuces.” He said New York was “more beautiful than I ever imagined,” and that he could tell both engines had been damaged by the “smell of the birds.”
Asked if he was going to visit the Hudson River while in town, Skiles said “We already have, twice.”
One flight attendant said she hoped we would consider her a New Yorker, and Bloomberg cracked, “We’d be happy to make you a taxpayer, too.” Walsh revealed that the water got into the cabin because “a panicked passenger” raced ahead of her and cracked the door to the plane open.
Representatives of the US Airline Pilots and Flight Attendants associations also spoke.