Have you ever followed your instincts to do something you thought was right, only to be questioned later about your choices and started to doubt yourself?
On January 15th, 2009 Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Tom Hanks), his First Officer Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) and a crew of three, took off with 150 passengers on United Airways Flight 1549 from New York’s LaGuardia airport headed for Charlotte. Within minutes of take-off on a cold but clear afternoon, their plane was hit by a flock of birds as they flew over the Manhattan skyline.
While you may be feeling a little sorry for the birds being unfortunately sucked into the jet’s engines, the damage caused both engines to fail and the jet to lose altitude very quickly. Alerting air traffic control immediately of the incident, Sully was advised to return to LaGuardia or to head towards nearby Teterboro Airport.
There was no time to do any calculations. Sully used his forty years of flying experience and quickly assessed his surroundings – they were flying over the Hudson River on a straight stretch of waterway – and told air traffic control he was going to land on the Hudson. No passenger ever wants to actually hear the captain or flight crew utter the words “Brace for impact!” but those words came repeatedly as terrified passengers clutch to their seatbelts.Sully and his crew were hailed as heroes at the centre of this “Miracle on the Hudson” – there had never been a successful water landing with no fatalities and only minor injuries suffered, but as the Captain testified in subsequent investigations, “There is never precedent until it happens for the first time.” All 150 passengers were brought to safety within half an hour of the landing by ferries and tourist boats nearby.
Sully, the film, focuses on the aftermath of the incident, both publicly with the investigation by the National Transport Safety Board (NTSB) and the private nightmares that Sully the man went through. A private man, suddenly thrust into the national and international spotlight, hailed as a hero for doing his job well, and then questioned for decisions he had to make in 208 seconds.
As is typical of any story where a hero is questioned over his actions, Sully presents the NTSB investigators as the bad guys, trying to turn a hero into a man who unnecessarily destroyed an aircraft. Ultimately, Sully reminds us all that the human factor can never be ignored and no amount of test data can replace years of experience.
Sully‘s screenplay is written by Todd Komarnicki and based on Sullenberger’s book “Highest Duty”. Shot with IMAX cameras and directed by Clint Eastwood, Hanks gives a beautifully understated performance as is befitting of the quietly-confident man he was portraying. Eckhart’s Skiles, as the loyal First Officer, never deviated from his belief that their actions were right and is the perfect match for Hanks.
Keep an eye out for a strong supporting cast full of names and faces you will recognise: Laura Linney as Sully’s sympathetic wife; Anna Gunn, Mike O’Malley and Jamey Sheridan as the NTSB investigators; Molly Hagan, Ann Cusack and Jane Gabbert as the flight attendants, and Valerie Mahaffey and Autumn Reeser among the passengers. And make sure to stay through the credits as the real Sully reunites with some of the 150 passengers whose lives he saved on that fateful day. Interestingly, some of the rescue workers featured in the film are the real life-savers who worked together on that cold January afternoon.
In a world where we are witnesses to tragedies almost on a daily basis, this is a feel-good story that reminds you of what humanity is. Imagine how differently things could have been if even one of the factors had been different – a different or less experienced pilot in the cockpit, different crew, a single panicked passenger attacking someone, or a slow-acting ferryboat captain. Sully makes you want to cheer for humanity.
Sully is showing across Australia now.