The Hero of Flight 1549

The world showered praise upon the Hero of the Hudson as Mayor Michael Bloomberg offered him the keys to New York and both President Bush and President-elect Obama called to salute him.

But the most important recognition for the cool-and-collected pilot known to friends as “Sully” may come from his children and loving wife.

“We are very proud of dad,” said Lorrie Sullenberger, as she stood with her two daughters in the driveway of her Danville, Calif. home. “And very shocked.”

She said her husband, Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger III,  was doing well but sequestered in New York for a few days as investigators probe the circumstances that forced him to make a miraculous emergency landing on the Hudson River yesterday.

Survivors, eyewitnesses, rescuers and experts alike all hailed the expertise, bravery and cool of  Sullenberger, a hero whose calm saved 155 people, including a nine-month-old baby, from an icy and fiery death.

When Mary Margaret Wilson saw the news, she had a gut feeling that her brother was at the controls.

"When I first saw it on TV, they were saying it was an amazing landing, like one in a million," Wilson, a Dallas resident and the sister of Sullenberger. "And I thought to myself, 'That's something my brother could do.'"

The adulation went way beyond Sully's family. A group of fans sprang up on Facebook within hours of the emergency landing.

"OMG, I am terrified of flying but I would be happy to be a passenger on one of your aircraft!!" Melanie Wills in Bristol wrote on the wall of "Fans of Sully Sullenberger." "You have saved a lot of peoples lives and are a true hero!!"

A former Air Force fighter pilot who worked for US Airways since 1980, Sullenberger gently touched down the Airbus 320 on the icy Hudson waters, miraculously delivering all onboard to safety.

"We've had a miracle on 34th Street,” Gov. David Paterson said. “Now I believe we've had a miracle on the Hudson.”

“The first and most important thing is that the pilot did a wonderful job,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg, noting that Sullenberger not only successfully piloted the plane but also walked the aisles twice to make sure that every passenger had been rescued.

He "did a masterful job of landing the plane in the river and then making sure that everybody got out," Bloomberg said.

The lucky survivors hailed his steady hand and cool head.

"You gotta give it to the pilot; he made a helluva landing," Jeff Kolodjay told News 4 New York. "He did a good job.  We hit the water pretty hard but I’m fine."

So steady was the hand of Sullenberger that all along the bank of the Hudson, eyewitnesses could not believe their eyes:  a plane was flying impossibly low yet steady as can be. It was as if the pilot were approaching a runway, not the icy winter waters of Manhattan’s Hudson River. "One of the best landings I've ever experienced," declared a passenger who escaped without injury.

Eyewitness after eyewitness echoed the sentiment.

"I see a commercial airliner coming down, looking like it's landing right in the water," said Bob Read, who saw it from his office window. "This looked like a controlled descent."

For the family waiting for him to return, there are “overwhelmed” that the improbable happened, but not surprised that their beloved daddy made it happen.

“He’s a pilot’s pilot,” said Lorrie Sullenberger. “And he loves the art of the airplane.”

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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