Skip main navigation

New offer! Get 30% off your first 2 months of Unlimited Monthly. Start your subscription for just £35.99 £24.99. New subscribers only T&Cs apply

Find out more

The Miracle on the Hudson

The Miracle on the Hudson
Hello there, it’s good to see you. In this session, we’re going to talk about the power of expertise. Because developing an expertise that’s meaningful to you and that adds value to others, is one of the most important things you can do to have a successful career. I’ll guarantee you that it won’t be easy to develop this expertise because it takes years of what researchers call mindful deliberate practice. Now let’s begin with a story. Imagine you’re on an airplane getting ready for take off from LaGuardia International Airport. Three minutes into the flight, at 2900 feet in the air, you hear thumping sounds. You feel the plane shudder and light smoke and a putrid smell start filling the inside of the plane.
You look out the window and you see flames coming from the engine. You think about the people you love and wish you could tell them just one more time that you love them. Now this is exactly what happened to the 150 passengers on the US Airways Flight 1549 on January 15th in 2009.
At 3:28 in the afternoon, just three minutes after the flight left LaGuardia on its way to North Carolina, a flock of Canadian geese flew into the engines of the $60 million plane, rendering both engines inoperable and turning the plane into a glider. At that moment, the 57 year old pilot Chesley, known as Sully, Sullenberger had only seconds to make a series of life or death decisions. When he realized he would have to land the disabled plane within minutes, he quickly assessed the situation. He decided that he couldn’t safely return to LaGuardia or reach the Teterboro Airport in nearby New Jersey.
While co-pilot Jeffrey Skiles went through the emergency checklist, Chesley determined that the least bad option was to land the plane in the Hudson River. And he told the startled air traffic controller, we’re going to be in the Hudson.
Over the plane’s public address system, Sullenberger told the passengers the words that no one wants to hear when flying. This is the captain, brace yourself for impact. With flames and smoke billowing from the left engine and the thumping sound of the disabled engines filling the air. The three experienced flight attendants, Donna Dent, Doreen Welsh, and Sheila Dail, quickly showed the passengers how to get into emergency position. And they repeated the words, brace for impact, keep your head down.
At 3:31 in the afternoon, only 208 seconds after the Airbus 320 engines lost power, Captain Sullenberger guided the plane over the George Washington Bridge, descending at over 1,000 feet per minute. And landed safely in the freezing water of the Hudson river near Midtown Manhattan. Passengers, some climbing over the seats as water began to fill the floor of the plane, streamed out onto the emergency chutes of the partially submerged plane. Some passengers quickly boarded inflatable emergency rafts. Others waited for rescue on the wings of the plane as the frigid water filled up around their ankles and then their knees.
By 3:35 in the afternoon, approximately ten minutes after the plane took off from LaGuardia, probably the longest ten minutes in the lives of the people on that plane. The first commuter and tourist ferries in the area arrived and started evacuating the wet and freezing passengers from the disabled plane. And within minutes, the police and US Coast Guard arrived on the scene as well. Nearly 80 passengers were treated for minor injuries and hypothermia. A few had more serious injuries and one stayed in the hospital overnight. All were able to go home to their families, many vowing to hug their families a bit tighter and tell them more often that they love them.
Today, the dramatic controlled water landing into the Hudson is considered to be the most successful emergency ditching in the history of aviation. It’s the gold standard how-to case for emergency ditchings. Not only for how to land a plane in a crisis, but also for the kind of education, experience, and crew management that enables pilots, crews, and passengers to handle emergency landings. We’re going to use this case to learn about the power of expertise. What separates experts from nonexperts? As well as, how one develops expertise through a particular kind of focused and structured practice. In this case, if a devastating bird strike was going to happen, the passengers were lucky to be on this flight.
Because it was staffed by a very seasoned crew. Sullenberger had over 19,000 flight hours and over 4500 of those had been in an Airbus 320 plane. The same kind of plane he was flying the day the engines failed because of the bird strike. Although this was first officer Jeffery Skiles first flight at the helm of an Airbus 320, he had over 15,000 flight hours behind him and he had recently been trained to fly the Airbus 320. The three flight attendants were all over 50 years old with a combined 92 years of experienced flying. And the Airbus 320 was equipped with safety equipment that exceeded minimum standards.
Now although all these advantages contributed to the successful ditching and rescue, they were far from sufficient to guarantee success. The precision landing in the Hudson required unwavering focus, split second decisions about where and how to land the plane. An enormous amount of skill and outstanding crew management. Sullenberger had to decide a course of action in seconds. And he executed his decision in less than four minutes. To give you some perspective of the enormous skill involved, the time between the bird strike and the safe landing of the aircraft was done in less time than it took you to watch this session so far.
Sullenberger had not been trained on how to manage a plane after a bird strike or how to ditch a disabled plane in water. Yet his 40 years of experience paid off. He knew he had to minimize the time spent flying over heavily populated areas to limit casualties in case the landing didn’t go as planned. He knew he had to land in an area where they’d be rescued quickly, due to the 21 degree weather and the icy water. He knew he had to keep the nose of the disabled plane up until the very last second to slow the plane down. He knew he had to keep the wings level on impact or the plane might cartwheel down the river after landing.
And he knew he had to stay calm and depend on the rest of the crew to do their jobs so that he could stay hyper-focused on landing the plane. After the landing, Sullenberger said, the way I describe this whole experience is that everything I had done in my career had in some way been a preparation for that moment. There were probably some things that were more important than others or that apply more directly. But I felt like everything I’d done in some way contributed to the outcome. Of course, along with the actions of my first officer and the flight attendant crew. The cooperative behavior of the passengers during the evacuation.
And the prompt and efficient response of the first responders in New York. Reluctant to be seen as the sole hero of US Air Flight 1549, Sullenberger accepted the invitation to attend Barrack Obama’s inauguration only under the condition that the other four crew members would be invited as well. Although the successful ditching was dubbed the Miracle on the Hudson, it was no miracle. When journalist Katie Couric asked Sullenberger if he took time to pray in the first few minutes between the bird strike and the landing, Sullenberger responded, I would imagine someone in the back of the plane was taking care of that for me while I was flying the airplane.
My focus at that point was so intense on the landing, I thought of nothing else. And he did his job very, very well. How did Captain Sullenberger develop world class expertise that provided him with the quick judgment, exceptional skill, and the calm demeanor that he needed during the crisis? Sullenberger developed a passion for flying at a young age. At age 16, he convinced his neighbor, an experienced crop duster in Denizen, Texas, to teach him how to fly. Giving him 45 years of experience by the time he ditched the disabled plane in the Hudson. While earning a degree in psychology at the US Air Force Academy, his studies focused on the psychology of cockpit crew behavior during a crisis.
He joined National Transportation Safety Board and US Air Force committees that investigated airplane accidents. And he helped develop safety procedures for surviving flight emergencies. So it wasn’t just the years of experience he had flying. It was the culmination of his years of experience used wisely that helped save the passengers and crew of Flight 1549. In the next session, you’ll learn how people become experts. What separates the best from the rest. You’ll learn how you can apply this knowledge to your own quest for success. I realize that some people watching this course want to become a superstar in their field. Others want to become better at what they do in an existing job.
Or want to learn techniques for developing a new set of skills for an unfamiliar role. Still others will want to learn about how to develop an expertise because they want to help someone else, their children, students or employees, develop an expertise that will help them achieve your goals. Whatever your goal is, you will be better able to achieve it if you implement what you learn in the next session. I’ll see you soon.
This article is from the free online

The Science of Success: What Researchers Know that You Should Know

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now