The passengers loaded the plane at Laguardia airport like any other day on that brisk January morning in 2009. They took their seats, fastened their seatbelts and turned off their cell phones, trusting they would see their families once they landed. Captain Sully had 42 years of experience under his belt and confidently prepared for a normal flight. He lifted the plane off the runway and began coasting through the sky as a flock of geese unexpectedly swarmed the nose and left him no room to navigate away from them. Suddenly their trusted pilot faced a double engine failure over a city of 8 million people and a river temperature of 40 degrees.
He recalled he had minutes to prioritize and save the lives of those 155 passengers plus crew members. His experience and discipline enabled him to ignore the distractions and choose where to focus his energy. Multitasking would have led to a tragedy so he trusted his experience and made calculated decisions to safely land a plane in the Hudson River and save every passenger. It is believed to be a miracle that they all survived.
A major part of the story that isn’t often spoken of is the relationship between Captain Sully and his first officer, and previous Captain himself, Jeffrey Skiles. Having over 20,000 hours of flying time, like Captain Sully, he was incredibly experienced. In that cock-pit he and Captain Sully wordlessly communicated and trusted each other to make the decisions they both knew were the correct ones to save them all. He silently supported Captain Sully as he made each calculated decision in those life changing moments. He trusted the Captain to deliver results that would protect him and the passengers and was there to assist if needed. His support and collaboration enabled Captain Sully to remain calm and know he was not in this alone.
As Captain Sully recollected the final moments before impact he had one opportunity to get his crew on the same page and chose his words very carefully. By feeling the silent support from his first officer he delivered the most impactful sentences of his life.
“This is the Captain. Brace for impact.”
These two short and impactful sentences communicated to his crew exactly what they needed to do and what they needed to communicate in order to protect the passengers and themselves.
As the Captain and Co-Pilot looked at each other in those last few moments before impact Captain Sully looked at his first officer Jeffrey and asked “got any ideas?” Pride was nowhere to be found when he asked this question, because as a leader in crisis he knew he had done everything he could think of and he wanted to empower his partner to speak up for the betterment of everyone involved. Jeffrey responded with “actually not.” They knew they had done all they could and were now bracing for impact.
Would the results have been the same had trust not been present in that cock-pit?
Would everyone remained as safe had the Captain not spoken so candidly?
Though there is no way to predict a different outcome if you ask Captain Sully he confidently confirms the outcome would have been much different.