A Movie Review of “Sully”


All Images Warner Brothers

Now comes a movie with the able direction of Clint Eastwood about a forced water landing of a US Airways Airbus A320 into New York’s Hudson River, following a bird strike that caused the total loss of both jet engines on January 15, 2009. Tom Hanks portrays Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger. With 155 passengers on board, and only seconds to run an emergency check list after the engines fail to re-start, the pilots have no other option available but to attempt a “dead stick” (powerless) glider approach back to LaGuardia Airport. Amazingly, the Airbus A320 remains intact upon controlled impact and all of the passengers and crew members are evacuated in what becomes termed “The Miracle in the Hudson”.

Lesser known to the general public is the ordeal that Captain Sullenberger and First Officer Jeff Skiles endured behind closed doors, as the National Transportation Safety Board Hearings began. In what is, initially, a disturbing attempt to impugn the good reputations of Sullenberger and Skiles by insinuating that their actions were mishandled, computerized simulations prepared by Airbus Indistrie using two pilots in a simulator seems to reveal that a mid-runway landing was possible (and missed) as the result of alleged negligence.

Of course, the NTSB Board having made its mind up that the accused pilots are guilty, based on these simulations using information from the airplane’s “Black Box” Data Recorder, fails to consider what is commonly referred to as “human factors”.

Sullenberger and Skiles take over the situation by pointing out that the NTSB has thoroughly eviscerated the facts by excluding the human (behavior) factors involving split-second decisions and cockpit Crew Resource Management. This amounted to  35 seconds of the 206 second event of consideration. This is corroborated by the Cockpit Voice Recordings aligned with the proper Emergency Check Lists and fast thinking of Sullenberger and Skiles to manage a problem that has no solution.

Facing an investigation that threatens to destroy his career and reputation of 43 years, Sullenberger endures Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and therapy to resolve symptoms few can imagine. 

This is a terrific film that is well paced, and well assembled using flash backs and an altogether human understanding of life’s fragile nature and the survival skills necessary to endure tragedy.

It bears noting that this story is taken from Sullenberger’s autobiography, “Highest Duty”.  Sullenberger explains: “People were wondering if everything was about self-interest and greed. They were doubting human nature. Then all these people acted together, selflessly, to get something really important done. In a way, I think it gave everyone a chance to have hope, at a time when we all needed it.”

Having all of the data of an event in life – and not just part of it — is essential to the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. This film achieves it. I recommend it.



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