His Message to New York City’s First Responders:
“I Have a Debt of Gratitude that I Fear I may Never be Able to Repay”
Hero pilot Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger reveals for the first time the sights, sounds and physical sensations he experienced as he pulled off an incredible water landing last month, saving the lives of all 155 people aboard US Airways Flight 1549. He tells his riveting story for the first time to Katie Couric in an interview to be broadcast on 60 MINUTES Sunday, Feb. 8 (7:00-8:00PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.
On Jan. 15, less than two minutes after taking off from LaGuardia Airport en route to Charlotte, N.C., the Airbus A320 struck a flock of large birds and lost power in both engines. An eerie silence and a disturbing smell followed. It was a moment like no other for the aircraft’s captain. “It was the worst sickening, pit-of-your-stomach, falling-through-the-floor feeling I’ve ever felt in my life,” Sullenberger tells Couric. “I knew immediately it was very bad.”
“Did you think, ‘How are we going to get ourselves out of this?'” Couric asks. Sullenberger replies, “No. My initial reaction was one of disbelief.”
Sullenberger then took control of the aircraft from First Officer Jeff Skiles and began to make the decisions and maneuvers that resulted in an emergency landing the world is still talking about. The moment the birds entered his screen, the noises they made on impact, the thoughts running through his head, the distance to reach an airport, the river below – he recalls all of them for Couric in an interview that relives one of the major events in aviation history.
Crewmembers Skiles, flight attendants Donna Dent, Sheila Dail and Doreen Welsh all relay their experiences in their first group interview. Skiles conveys his perspective while doing his duties in the cockpit and the attendants provide a breathtaking account of what they heard, saw and felt in the aircraft’s cabin with 150 passengers who were told to “brace for impact” as the jetliner angled down toward the Hudson River, relying only on gravity and Sullenberger’s skills to prevent their deaths.
Within minutes of the water landing, the crew helped their passengers out of the aircraft and first responders from New York City saved the day by averting a sure and quick death when they rescued passengers and crew as the plane sank into the freezing water.
Of the first responders, Sullenberger says, “Thank you seems totally inadequate. I have a debt of gratitude that I fear I may never be able to repay.”
The story of Flight 1549 – plus many of the passengers in an emotional reunion with their heroic crew – will be of extra-length and will lead Sunday’s broadcast of 60 MINUTES.