Local News

Orange County pilot recalls dangerous landing

Posted January 15, 2009 10:59 p.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:12 p.m. EDT

— Retired pilot Kent Keller, of Orange County, can relate to the situation Flight 1549 pilot Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger III was in on Thursday.

Sullenberger maneuvered his crippled US Airways Airbus A320 over New York City and ditched it in the frigid Hudson River on Thursday. All 155 on board were pulled to safety.

On April 2, 1994, Keller experienced a similar situation while flying a Boeing 727 in Orlando, Fla.

“The left gear failed to extend,” Keller said.

Keller circled to burn off fuel before making a crash landing. “I kept the left main up and set her down,” he said.

Keller's skill helped save 142 passengers plus crew.

Based on his nearly 25 years as a commercial pilot, Keller says LaGuardia (whose airport code is LGA) is a dangerous airport. “I hit birds going to LGA … knocked out a landing light,” Keller said.

In the case of Flight 1549, Keller believes there was little time to react.

“He made the decision within, well, 30 seconds, and from the time it happened, he only had 2 to 2½ minutes until touchdown,” Keller said.

Keller said he is particularly proud of Sullenberger because of how he laid the plane down with what was likely a heavy load.

Keller understands the emotion Sullenberger will have when looking back on what happened and what could have happened.

“He is going to have a euphoria that will be unbelievable because everyone is alive. Thumbs up to him,” Keller said.