Takes a Serious Contrarian to Go After Captain "Sully" Sullenberger's Heroic Image

Russ Buettner, NY Times:


In America today, the half-life of newly minted hero status seems to end the moment that Oprah’s jaw drops. No sooner does someone amaze us than someone else seeks to diminish their splendor.

But Sully?

In a new book, “Fly by Wire,” William Langewiesche takes a run at knocking down the hero rank of Capt. Chesley B. Sullenberger III, the US Airways pilot who in January glided a powerless Airbus A320 to an emergency landing in the Hudson River, according to a review published in The New York Times on Wednesday.


Mr. Langewiesche argues that Captain Sullenberger’s landing did not display “unusual skill.” Instead, he posits that perhaps the real hero was Bernard Ziegler, a former Airbus executive credited with helping the airline develop what is known as a fly-by-wire control system, which eased the difficulties of handling an aircraft.

“Like it or not, Ziegler reached out across the years and cradled them all the way to the water,” writes Mr. Langewiesche, who is himself a former professional pilot.

I can't offer a review of Langewiesche's book -- haven't read it. And while I can't see how it could be anything other than an act of unusual skill to land a loaded jetliner without thrust on a narrow river in the middle of a densely packed city without injury, I won't try to dispute his argument. William Langewiesche is a pretty brilliant writer and, as the excerpt indicates, he, unlike myself, is a former professional pilot.

But I've got to ask why? Why bother writing a book to muddy Sully's heroic image?

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