'Miracle on Hudson' survivors united (and saved) by shared values
The crew and passengers of the "Miracle on the Hudson" flight have a lot in common. It's not just that they survived a harrowing near-death experience together -- the ditching of US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River after the jet hit geese on take-off from LaGuardia Airport.
It's that they're very much alike -- middle and upper-middle class Americans with shared values: Values, you might say, that played a critical role in saving their lives.
On Saturday, the crew and more than a dozen passengers of US Airways Flight 1549 gathered for a reunion in Charlotte, North Carolina; it was the destination for the ill-fated jet nearly two-and-a-half years ago. Recently, the salvaged Airbus was trucked to Charlotte where it will have permanent home at Charlotte's Aviation Museum. Passengers on Saturday were seeing the jet for the first time since it splashed down in the Hudson on January 15, 2009.
"It's one thing to read about history or to hear about history, but it's another to see it up close and personal," said Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger. Putting Flight 1549 into deeper perspective, he added: "It served as a reminder when we very much needed one, of the goodness that exists not only in the world, but within each of us."
Indeed, the orderly evacuation of the jet was credited to a large extent with the fact that all 150 passengers and five crew members survived. What did things turn out as well as they did?
Captain Sullenberger, now retired, has in the past played down his own role as a hero, a man whose skillful piloting and grace under pressure saved the day. He was merely part of a "team effort," he said -- one involving his copilot, cabin crew, and the impromptu rescue effort by a flotilla of ferries and other boats.
First Officer Jeffrey Skiles, for his part, credited the passengers with being a big part of that team effort. "The passengers did their jobs. They very orderly evacuated the airplane after we touched down," he said during the "Charlie Rose" show. Passengers, in other words, didn't let a survival-of-the-fittest mentality to dictate who got out first. They behaved as they were brought up to behave --waiting their turns to get out of the jet as it filled with cold water. The same may be said of crew members. They did their jobs thanks to the values of self-discipline and sense of duty, traits that went hand-in-hand with their training.
Who were Flight 1549's passengers? Just ordinary middle and upper-middle class folks. Many were young professionals. Presumably, they grew up with the values of civic responsibility, courtesy, and self-discipline. Among them were 23 Bank of America executives and three from Wells Fargo.
They and fellow passengers were not the kinds of folks you expect to see trampling over one another at Wal-Mart in their zeal to snap up discounted electronics and CDs.
Speaking at Flight 1549's reunion, First Officer Skiles said, "The airplane itself really doesn't stir up any emotion for me. But coming back to an event like this, where the passengers and crew are reunited, and I can revisit the relationships that I've made with them over the last two and a half years, that's really what's important."
It's common for people who have a near-death experience to thereafter have a far greater appreciation for what's important in life. For Flight 1549's passengers, Saturday's reunion is, at bottom, a celebration of the values that unite them -- and that saved them.