On January 15th 2009 an incident occurred that would later be referred to as the “Miracle on the Hudson.” This event was an emergency plane landing into the Hudson River due to crippling bird strikes that destroyed both jet engines, resulting in complete loss of power just after takeoff. The pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and co-pilot Jeff Skiles accessed the situation, and Sully quickly determined they did not have enough time to make it to the nearest airport to land. As a result, he chose to bring the plane down into the Hudson River. Miraculously, no one was seriously harmed and all passengers and crew survived to be rescued from the river.
In 2016, Director Clint Eastwood released the film Sully to tell not only this harrowing story but also its rather controversial aftermath. Tom Hanks was cast to play the part of Sully, and he does a nominal job as usual. Hanks has always been able to portray characters from both fiction and history in a remarkable humane and relatable tone. In the direct aftermath of the landing, Sully is pronounced a hero by the whole of the country. However, privately he struggles with the trauma and stress of the incident.
Members of the National Transportation Safety Board begin to question if Sully’s actions were correct after running diagnostics on the recovered plane. Furthermore, the board begins to claim that test simulations show that Sully could have landed the plane at the neighboring Teterboro airport or even have simply recalculated his approach and returned to LaGuardia. Sully realizes that the board may intend to hold him accountable for the crash landing, thereby tarnishing his record and ruining his career. When Sully meets with the board, he arranges for the simulations to be tested on live pilots in an open hearing. The results of the test prove Sully’s point by showing the pilots are incapable of making it back to the airports and would have ended up crashing into the middle of the city killing all on board and many hundred more on the ground. In light of these new findings, the committee agrees with Sully that he acted correctly given the severity of the situation.
This film portrays the inherent risk that we take for granted in commercial flying, however rare accidents may be. If disaster does strike, what’s needed is an immensely skilled and level-headed pilot, and Captain Sullenberger proved that.
Sully was widely praised upon its release and still holds an 86% on the popular website Rotten Tomatoes. Director Clint Eastwood is fantastic at creating thought-provoking biopics where you quickly forget you’re watching a film and feel as if you’re right there in the moment as history unfolds.