'Sully' Sullenberger meets grateful passengers

February 9, 2009 6:59:17 AM PST
Passengers from the "Miracle on the Hudson" emergency landing last month poured onto the set of "Good Morning America" today to personally thank Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger III and his crew for saving 155 lives. The heartfelt thanks from the passengers were often said through tears.

"I thought I was going to lose my wife and never get to see my children. I thank you, all of you, from the bottom of my heart," a choked-up Larry Snodgrass told the captain.

Passenger David Sontag said he wrote a letter to each crew member of US Airways flight 1549. He read part of them on the air: "I wish for you the old Irish saying, 'May the wind always be at your back and may God hold you safely in his hands.'"

Vallee Collins said on the way down, she texted her husband to say, "My flight is crashing." The woman said she expected the flight to end "tragically" and didn't want her husband to be wondering whether she was on that plane or not.

"I wanted him to get to the business of telling our children and moving on," Collins said, delighted to be smiling and talking to the crew on "GMA" instead.

Many of the 27 passengers who appeared on "GMA" shook hands with Sullenberger and many gave him a hug.

"Good to see you, thanks for coming," Sullenberger said as he greeted each. "Holding up OK? Wild ride," he asked one.

Sullenberger has recounted in recent days how he simultaneously battled to keep the wings perfectly even, keep the rate of descent "survivable" and keep the plane's nose slightly up.

At the same time, the flight attendants tried to keep the passengers, many of whom were staring transfixed out the window at the coming collision or were trying to text friends or family members, in a proper position to absorb the crash.

The attendants kept up a chant as the plane plummeted toward the Hudson: "Brace, brace, heads down, stay down." It was a sound that Sullenberger could hear in the cockpit, reassuring the captain that his crew was acting like pros and ready for the next phase of the emergency.

Sullenberger and his crew splashed down on a frigid Jan. 15 in a spectacular landing and rescue that quickly became dubbed "the miracle on the Hudson." Both engines were knocked out when the plane "was pelted by many large birds," as Sullenberger described it.

Many of the passengers scrambled out onto the plane's wings as river ferries converged to take them to safety.

Captain Didn't Doubt He Could Land on Water

Sullenberger said he gave the command for the passengers to brace themselves only 90 seconds before the crash so the attendants "would have time to shout their commands but there wouldn't be an interminable delay" for the impact.

He didn't doubt that he could pull off the water landing.

"I was very confident... and I knew once we landed, that the crew could evacuate the passengers and the rescue could begin," Sullenberger told "GMA."

And his serene tone on the radio, he said, "was practiced, it was years of experience dealing with challenges and knowing we had to face this challenge squarely and we had a job to do."

Passenger Frieda Muscatell said on "GMA" about having survived the crash: "There was that moment where you think, am I alive or is this part of the experience?"

Some passengers were also cool and busy during the crash.

Snodgrass said he texted his wife during the descent, called her while standing on the wing and leaning up against the fuselage and then took pictures of the scene.

It's been a weekend of public adulation for the unflappable pilot.

Sullenberger got a standing ovation when he attended the Broadway performance of "South Pacific." And later today, he will be a guest at City Hall where Mayor Michael Bloomberg will present him with the key to the city to honor his grace under pressure.


Story taken from ABCNews.com, http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=6834954&page=1

CLICK HERE to follow Action News on Twitter

CLICK HERE to get Action News on your website

CLICK HERE to find Action News on Facebook

Click here to get the latest Philadelphia news and headlines from across the Delaware and Lehigh valleys.