National News

Hudson 'Miracle' pilots reunite for NY flight

Posted September 30, 2009 12:06 p.m. EDT
Updated October 1, 2009 7:38 p.m. EDT

— "This is your captain, Chesley Sullenberger."

Passengers on two US Airways flights erupted in cheers when they heard those words from the cockpit Thursday.

"I was overwhelmed when I found out it was him," said Don Lambert, 61, of Fort Mill, S.C., who flew from Charlotte, N.C. to New York's LaGuardia Airport. "You feel like you have the best pilot in the world fixing to fly you to New York."

Sullenberger, the hero pilot who landed a disabled jetliner safely in the Hudson River on Jan. 15, was reunited with co-pilot Jeffrey Skiles on Thursday's flights, which marked his official return to flying for US Airways.

"It's good to be back in New York," Sullenberger said at a LaGuardia news conference. "And it's good to be back at work."

Sullenberger said the gratitude of passengers has been "an extraordinary gift." And he bestowed the same gift on his colleague.

“You were with me that day over the Hudson and you have my eternal gratitude for your skill and your courage. I could not have had a better colleague that day and since,” Sullenberger said to Skiles during a news conference in Charlotte.

Tempe, Ariz.-based US Airways had told reporters that Sullenberger's first flight would be later Thursday out of LaGuardia, but that wasn't true.

Airline spokesman Jonathan Freed acknowledged that the flight out of LaGuardia was actually Sullenberger's fourth time flying passengers since landing in the Hudson. He flew two flights Sept. 11 as part of his retraining process.

His flight Thursday morning from Charlotte was his first with Skiles.

When asked why US Airways released incorrect information, Freed said the flight out of LaGuardia was important because it was "symbolic" for the crew.

"It's the one that they're emotionally attached to," Freed said.

For Thursday's passengers, what mattered was the thrill of having Sullenberger at the controls.

"It was like everyone was taking their first flight," Jay Howard, 47, said after landing in his hometown of Charlotte.

He said he felt "lucky to be a part of history."

“When we got to the airport there were rumblings that he would be the captain of our flight and I actually saw him through the window hen I was boarding the plane,” said Aaron Ellison, after landing in Charlotte.

Jerome Griffin, 34, of Charlotte, said the landing Thursday afternoon "was one of the smoothest I've ever experienced."

Among the passengers waiting to board the flight from New York to Charlotte was Barry Leonard, who was on the Jan. 15 "Miracle on the Hudson" flight.

A Charlotte resident who works in Manhattan, Leonard said he was excited to retake that flight with Sullenberger and Skiles.

"I chose to do this; this is part of therapy for me," he said.

Sullenberger landed the Airbus A320 in the Hudson after a collision with a flock of geese killed power in both engines minutes after takeoff. All 155 people on board were saved, and "Sully" was celebrated as an American hero.

Now that he is back with US Airways he will make some regular flights and will supervise other pilots as part of the airline's safety management team.

He will probably hear applause and cheers whenever he makes announcements from the cockpit - something the self-effacing aviator sounded uncomfortable with.

"I may just have to stop mentioning my name," he said.