Whether it’s your doctor or casual acquaintance in a bar, any suggestion you make to them that the movie Sully was not strictly accurate and that Sully’s feat should be put in perspective is received with incredulity.
A female reviewer of the first edition of our Air Crashes and Miracle Landings was so incensed she gave us one star, saying she could not bear to read on.
And this month a glowing review on Amazon UK of our expanded and more user-friendly second edition gave us five stars, noting that the only negative was our questioning Sully’s piloting skills and our making unfavourable comparisons whenever we could.
This made us wonder about the whole Sully phenomenon, for in no other incident does questioning a pilot’s actions, even if to ultimately largely approve, produce such a backlash.
Why is Sully revered worldwide, like a Charles Lindbergh, when other pilots have faced greater challenges in saving all or many of their passengers?
Obviously the fact that it took place under the full glare of publicity in New York City is one reason.
But an image, as in the case of the classic photo of the young girl running away from the napalm during the Vietnam war, is everything.
People worshipped Sully for what they believed to be a miraculous ditching but surprisingly it is not the images of the ditching that come to mind but those of the passengers huddled together on the wings and in the life rafts, looking so vulnerable and STILL needing to be rescued. Those images starkly humanised the event.
Had rescue boats not been three minutes away, and a helicopter not arrived soon, and the aircraft not happened to have life rafts even though it was a domestic flight over land, the outcome could have been very different.
While Sully’s decision-making was good and his piloting competent it was something other pilots should have been capable of.
Fortunately, he is a wonderful man, though many of the admirable qualities we subsequently learnt of, such as the ability to slow an aircraft and lose height using his glider-pilot skills just were not needed on that day.
We wish we had avoided the damaging controversy, but could hardly have left the incident out.