The pilot who safely landed his crippled jet in New York’s Hudson River received a hero’s homecoming on Saturday, getting the key to the city and making his first public comments since the dramatic landing.
Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger was lauded by about 3,000 neighbors during a one-hour ceremony on Danville’s town green, which was encircled with US flags. Huge banners proclaimed “Danville Welcomes Our Hometown Hero” and handmade signs in the crowd read: “Sully’s Soaring Saved Souls.”
A high school band played God Bless America and a local sandwich shop offered a “Sully’s Special” — a meatball panini with tomato-basil soup.
Sullenberger, who turned 58 on Friday, spoke for only about 25 seconds to the crowd. He and other crew members have refused other public comment while the investigation continues into the incident involving flight 1549.
“I am speaking for the entire crew when I tell you we were simply doing the jobs we were trained to do,” said Sullenberger, who wore a dark suit instead of his pilot’s uniform.
Sullenberger has been catapulted into the limelight following the crash, which occurred after the US Airways Airbus A320 he was piloting hit birds and apparently lost engine power shortly after take-off.
Responding with remarkable calm, Sullenberger landed his stricken plane gently into the icy waters of the Hudson, enabling all passengers and crew to make a successful evacuation.
The story has resonated with Americans, cheering a nation hungry for good news amid a relentless barrage of gloomy headlines about the economy.
Sullenberger, who friends and family have described as modest and unassuming, was a guest at US President Barack Obama’s inauguration in Washington following the feat.
One woman brandished a home-made placard reading: “Captain Sully you are a great American hero! Sully for President 2012! God bless you Sully!”
Sullenberger runs a transport safety consultancy and has clocked up 19,000 hours of flying time in a 40-year-career as a pilot. A former US Air Force fighter pilot, he has served as an instructor and safety chairman of the Air Line Pilots Association.