Road to Resilience

Resilience Lessons from Sully

July 06, 2023 Mount Sinai Health System Episode 80
Resilience Lessons from Sully
Road to Resilience
More Info
Road to Resilience
Resilience Lessons from Sully
Jul 06, 2023 Episode 80
Mount Sinai Health System

Former pilot Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger discusses resilience principles he honed through family tragedy, his decades as an Air Force pilot and commercial pilot, and his successful emergency landing of a passenger aircraft in the Hudson River, in what became known as "The Miracle on the Hudson." He was portrayed by Tom Hanks in the 2016 film "Sully: Miracle on the Hudson."

Visit to see if you're eligible to enroll in a clinical trial with the Mount Sinai Health System.

Check out more episodes of Road to Resilience —as well as guest pictures, transcripts, and more— on the Mount Sinai website.

Road to Resilience brings you stories and insights to help you thrive in a challenging world. From fighting burnout and trauma to building resilient families, we explore what’s possible when science meets the human spirit.

Show Notes Transcript

Former pilot Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger discusses resilience principles he honed through family tragedy, his decades as an Air Force pilot and commercial pilot, and his successful emergency landing of a passenger aircraft in the Hudson River, in what became known as "The Miracle on the Hudson." He was portrayed by Tom Hanks in the 2016 film "Sully: Miracle on the Hudson."

Visit to see if you're eligible to enroll in a clinical trial with the Mount Sinai Health System.

Check out more episodes of Road to Resilience —as well as guest pictures, transcripts, and more— on the Mount Sinai website.

Road to Resilience brings you stories and insights to help you thrive in a challenging world. From fighting burnout and trauma to building resilient families, we explore what’s possible when science meets the human spirit.

[00:00:00] Stephen: From the Mount Sinai Health System in New York City, this is Road to Resilience, a podcast about facing adversity. I'm Stephen Calabria. 

[00:00:12] Today on the show we have former airline pilot, Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger. As a former US Air Force fighter pilot, and an airline pilot for 30 years Captain Sully Sullenberger has always been passionate about safety, leadership, risk management, and crisis management. Given a greater voice after his historic successful Hudson River landing in 2009, he has felt a deep obligation to use his voice for good.

[00:00:37] He most recently directed his efforts towards safety and global air travel, serving as the US Ambassador and representative to the International Civil Aviation Organization, a United Nations specialized agency. But for many years, Captain Sullenberger has been vocal about safety, not just in the aviation and medical fields, but across all industries.

[00:00:57] He has testified before congressional committees many times and lent his expertise to shaping safety legislation, and he speaks in defense of democracy and American values. In 2009, with more than 20,000 hours of flight time, Captain Sullenberger, along with his First Officer Jeff Skiles safely guided US Airways flight 1549 to an emergency landing in the Hudson River in what has become known as the Miracle on the Hudson. All 155 passengers and crews survived. 

[00:01:26] Captain Sullenberger joins us now. 

[00:01:29] Captain Sullenberger, welcome to the show, sir. 

[00:01:31] Sully: Thank you, Steven. Great to be with you. 

[00:01:33] Stephen: Now, if you would, did you always want to be a pilot?

[00:01:36] Sully: Well, almost always, you know, people think I always wanted to be a pilot, but for a very brief time, when I was probably about four and a half or five, I wanted to be a policeman or a fireman, as we called firefighters in those days.

[00:01:49] By the time I was five, the die was cast and I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I was just fascinated by the wonder of flight and I was so fortunate to, to spend my entire lifetime doing something I loved, you know, in a profession that I found meaningful. 

[00:02:03] Your father had a major surgery and faced a long road of convalescence. He ultimately took his own life, which led you to become an activist for suicide prevention. Could you walk us through, briefly, the circumstances around that horrible experience and how persevering through it informed your development? 

[00:02:26] Yes. Yeah, it was on Thursday, December 7th, 1995. And, my mother called me and told me that my father had shot himself.

[00:02:39] And of course she was distraught. I, I was shocked to my core. Got on an airplane as soon as I could, came home. But, you know, of course she had to be the one to call 911, to try to get the blood out by rug, to have the window glass repaired where the projectile had exited to the bedroom. 

[00:03:02] I, I didn't see it coming. I guess that's pretty typical. You know, my father had always had what he called throughout his life, even when I was a child, his blue funks that would occasionally arise for him, but I didn't really fully understand, didn't associate it with the word depression. It was obvious that he was in a lot of emotional pain. 

[00:03:24] He was 78. A very proud man, served in World War II. Had a successful practice as a dentist, but I think in retrospect, he felt like the world had passed him by, that it had changed beyond his recognition. I think there are some limits to how much societal change people can, can easily tolerate in a lifetime, and that clearly he had reached a point where he probably felt like he wasn't part of it. 

[00:03:55] And I, I think in his mind he must have thought he was doing something noble. You know, he, he'd had his gallbladder had burst. Major surgery. Facing a long convalescence, and he probably thought in his, in his mind that he was saving my mom from a long time of caring for him.

[00:04:18] I think he was in so much emotional pain, he just couldn't see beyond his own situation and he, he didn't appreciate the impact that that would have on the rest of his family. Our daughters were very young, three and one at the time, and I just couldn't imagine how he could remove himself from a world with them in it.

[00:04:39] It shocked me, saddened me, and ultimately angered me, that he had chosen that. But I eventually came to as much as one can, understood how he got to that place. 

[00:04:51] And so that experience allowed you to develop a certain understanding of pain and sorrow and perseverance. And how do you think that that informed your development as a man, as a pilot?

[00:05:08] I think that in many other experiences, in particular, being a US Air Force officer and fighter pilot, it, it, and then being in a, in a professional piloting career, throughout your life, you learn, and I think probably certain types of personalities tend to gravitate towards certain careers. But I think not only is the career sort of self-selecting, or at least it has been historically, but the career experiences tend to make one more that way because it works. 

[00:05:39] So you become able to be very controlled, very aware. You have to simultaneously have awareness and focus, and I've described that as situational awareness, SA, and that's a very important situational skill for pilots to know where we are in three dimensions in space and time, so forth, really. 

[00:06:03] And always know, I, I describe situational awareness as simultaneously being able to see the entirety of the forest while at any moment knowing exactly which tree is the most important. And so, having that kind of awareness and focus, you know, not just zeroing in on, on tunnel vision, but having the awareness of everything going on around you and being, and trying to live a thoughtful, meaningful, meaningful life, you know, a mindful life.

[00:06:29] And I was always naturally curious and well-read and, and so I was a continuous, lifelong learner, and in my profession, the ethos, especially as a fighter pilot, is to be a constant, constantly striving for excellence. So being a, being a continuous learner and, striving for excellence, professionally and personally, trying to be the most complete version of myself I could be as a father, as a husband, as a pilot, as a neighbor, as a citizen, you know, that's something I, it helps to give my life meaning and purpose. 

[00:06:57] Stephen: You spent some time in the military as you, as you mentioned, did you face life and death situations? 

[00:07:03] Sully: Yeah, even though my service was all during peacetime, just at the end of the Vietnam War and through the Cold War, even in peacetime flying fighters, you know, we're near the, the limits aerodynamically in, in every way on many training flights, much more than commercial airline flying where we're just so solidly within the safe parameters we've hardly ever faced, you know, really serious threats.

[00:07:26] And so, yeah, I got into situations where, at flying at, at high speed close to the ground, you know, 600 knots, at 100 feet above the ground in formation, you know, practicing to defend Europe against a Soviet invasion by staying below the Soviet radar during the Cold War, where you, if you misjudged your height or the distance from the terrain that you would need to make a turn or, or make, complete a maneuver, you could put yourself in peril and life-threatening danger within seconds.

[00:07:54] So, you know, success and failure, life and, and death could be measured in seconds and in feet. And so you got very good at managing risk, and planning and being in control of the situation, and not being a risk taker, but being able to be bold when necessary with, with a full and accurate appreciation of the risk, but knowing which risks are worth taking. So I think, you know, that kind of informed my life, too, in every aspect. 

[00:08:20] Stephen: Now, moving on to the events of January 2009, which perhaps you're a little burned out on talking about, but for our listeners who, who don't know about it, could you describe that day and the events that unfolded? 

[00:08:34] Sully: Sure. It was January 15th, 2009. It was a Thursday afternoon, 3:31 PM Eastern Standard Time, and that day had begun like literally 10,000 other days. And I'll do the math for you. That's just over 27 and a quarter of years, and we work very hard in commercial aviation and airline flying to never be surprised by anything, to make it routine.

[00:08:58] We, we plan and, and have alternatives for every course of action, but this very suddenly, 100 seconds after take off, just below 3000 feet above the ground, taking off from New York La Guardia, became an ultimate challenge of a lifetime, and I knew it as it was happening. I saw this large flock of large birds, Canada geese, about two and a half or three seconds before we hit them, but not enough time to avoid them.

[00:09:23] I had just enough time, we know from the cockpit voice recorded transcript to say, "Birds." Our first officer, Jeff Skiles, saw them too, and then I could feel and hear the thumps and thuds as we struck them on the nose, right below the cockpit windows, the, across both wings and into the center of the core of both jet engines.

[00:09:43] Almost immediately, as the engines were being damaged by these massive birds that weighed 10 or 12 pounds going through the center of them and tearing up the turbines and compressor blades, I could hear terrible noises coming from the engines I'd never heard in an airplane in flight before, as they were being damaged.

[00:09:59] I felt terrible vibrations I'd never felt before in an airplane, coming from the engines as they were being destroyed. And then the thrust loss. I used, as a chapter title in my first book, the words that I used to describe the thrust loss to the NTSB investigators in the first interview, two days after of light, it was sudden, complete, symmetrical.

[00:10:21] Both sides. Both engines at once. It felt as if the forward momentum of the airplane nearly stopped in mid-air. It felt as if the bottom had fallen out of our world. I remember vividly my first three thoughts. This can't be happening. You know, a very, having read about accident flights, a very typical thought, rooted in disbelief, followed immediately by, this doesn't happen to me.

[00:10:42] In other words, for, for 42 years I'd been flying, 20,000 hours in the air, I had never been so challenged in an airplane, I ever doubted the outcome. But this was different. And my third thought was more of a realization, that unlike all those other flights for so long, this flight probably would not end on a runway with the aircraft undamaged.

[00:11:04] And I was okay with that, as long as I could solve the problem. My body responded immediately, very naturally in a normal physiological stress response to this sudden life-threatening situation. I was aware of that as, as it happened. I felt my pulse shoot up, my blood pressure spike. I, I sensed my perceptual field narrow, tunnel vision, because of it. I did three things that made the difference.

[00:11:28] I forced calm on myself, a kind of practice calm, that we as pilots learn over decades to force on ourself no matter what's happening, to not be distracted by the stress, but to take appropriate action quickly and effectively, correctly. And even though we'd never specifically trained for this event, I'd never anticipated hitting a flock of such large birds, so many of them, at such a low altitude over one of the most densely populated metropolitan areas on the planet, and having less than three and a half minutes before our flight path intersected the surface of the earth to solve it.

[00:12:03] But even in this situation, because I had been such a diligent, lifelong learner, and student of my profession, even in this novel event, I could set clear priorities. And so I chose to do a few things that would be most important, that would help us the most, but do them very, very well, and then have the discipline to ignore everything else I did not have time to do, as being only distractions and detriments from my performance. Cause see, I was well read. I knew the neuroscience. I knew that that multitasking is a myth. That when we think we're multitasking, what we are in fact doing is switching tasks rapidly between them and not doing any of them well.

[00:12:41] So I knew I should do the few things that mattered, but do them very, very well. And so that's what we did, working together, our first officer, Jeff Skiles and me. And, we didn't have time to talk about this, because the time pressure and the workload were so extreme. So, so we did something that people outside the industry find hard to appreciate or understand.

[00:13:01] We were able to collaborate wordlessly. I had to rely upon Jeff immediately and intuitively on his own, understand this developing crisis as I did, seeing it unfold, and he did, and then on his own initiative, know what he should do to help me because I didn't have time to direct his every action. And he did, and there are several critical moments in there.

[00:13:21] And had he been a lot less experienced, we couldn't have had as good of an outcome. But fortunately, Jeff also has 20,000 hours of flight time. He'd also been a captain on the 737, a different airplane type, before he was forced into the, the right seat to be a first officer on the Airbus due to a layoffs and and cutbacks at the airline.

[00:13:38] Had he not been so experienced, he just couldn't have done as well. And we were extraordinarily experienced that day. Between the two of us in our combined total lifetime flying experience since we had each learned how to fly, we had 75 hour- 75 years of combined aviation experience. And just in an airline experience, our time at the airline together, we had a combined 50 years, half a century of airline experience flying airplanes.

[00:14:03] So had we not been so experienced, we wouldn't have been able to use that, that knowledge, experience, and judgment to frame all the decisions we made, because we didn't have time to, to decide, to, to talk about each factor we were considering, but we had to have accessible, in the back of our minds, this whole paradigm of how to solve a problem and what steps would be the most appropriate in this situation. and so, we quickly began to take action. 

[00:14:32] Stephen: Were there any precedents that you had to go off of in the minutes before you made the landing, both in terms of actual water landings and what until then had been your closest calls? 

[00:14:44] Sully: Well, I always knew that one of the most extreme emergencies would be was to be to lose all engine thrust at low altitude, no matter whether you're over land or over water and I had a pretty good idea of what our procedures were. In fact, I had a very good idea of what our procedures were. And so I was able to take, by memory, the first two remedial actions that we would eventually get to on the dual-engine flameout checklist over a minute later, over a third of the way through the remaining flighttime.

[00:15:10] But I needed these actions to be effective immediately, yesterday, you know, and not a minute from now. So I turned on the engine ignition and started the aircraft's auxiliary power unit, to provide a backup system of electric energy to our fly-by-wire airplane, based upon computers, so we wouldn't lose electrical power.

[00:15:26] So that helped. But I didn't really know about many airline water landings. I knew there'd been some, there was a famous one in the propeller airliner day back in the mid-fifties, I think 1956, PanAm, I think, had two four-engine propeller airliners ditch between San Francisco and Hawaii back in the fifties.

[00:15:45] There were some survivors, at least on one of 'em, I think, but open ocean water landings, even in daytime, this low sea state, it's difficult. In a, in a protected inland water way like a river, I knew it'd be easier, but I didn't know of any recent analogs. It turns out later, in researching it and, and reading press accounts of ours comparing it to previous long flights, there were some, many decades ago, but none really recent, so I, I was having to kind of figure it out as we went along, especially because the checklist that we were given to use by the airline, by the air- airplane manufacturer, Airbus, was a three-page checklist designed to be used from, you know, 35,000 feet where you have 20 or 30 minutes to get through it.

[00:16:27] You know, we were at less than 3000 feet. We had less than three and a half minutes from the time we hit the birds until we were in the water. So we had to try to adapt that long checklist and do the most important things early on and then figure out how to land and get the airplane set up for landing after that without too much distraction from anything else going on.

[00:16:46] Stephen: So, because there had been so few precedents to go off of, if you were being realistic after you'd made the decision that the plane had to make a water landing, was there room for optimism about everyone's chances of survival? Or did you even have enough to go on? Could you even give that much thought in the moment?

[00:17:04] Sully: I, I think it's interesting. I like that that fact that you used the word 'realistic', because, both at work and at home, we keep it real and, it's better to keep it real, especially at work. In my first book and, and quite a few times since, I've written, talked about what I call realistic optimism, as opposed to wishful thinking. And in my mind, realistic optimism is, is a key, it's a key trait, a key ability, and the way I describe it is, simultaneously holding in one's mind two very different thoughts. 

[00:17:39] First, having a full and accurate appreciation of the risks of all the challenges you're facing and how difficult it's gonna be and how all the many factors you must consider.

[00:17:49] While at the same time, having over many decades done all the hard work, already have attained the knowledge, the skill, experience and judgment, having created a paradigm about how to solve even the problem you'd never seen before, by setting clear priorities and taking step-by-step action and solving all the problems until you've solved them all, or solved as many as you can enough to survive. And never giving up. Being, you know, resilient.

[00:18:14] And that's a really important concept, both in flying and in life. To never give up, to, to always have a way out, to always, Hey, there's always one more step you can take, one more action you could take to try to make it better, even by a fraction. And that's what we did that day. So I, at the outset, I never thought I was gonna die that day.

[00:18:35] I was confident that even though I'd never done this before, I worked together and my team, and with those on the ground, air-traffic controllers, first responders, rescuers, we'd find a way. And my definition of success was absolute. Complete, you know, to say-- to save every life. And I knew, I, I knew as soon as we landed and pulled this off, I was glad, but I knew we weren't done.

[00:18:59] We still had to get 155 people out of an airplane taking on water in a river in January when the air temperature is about minus-six degrees Celsius and the water temperature about plus-two and hypothermia can kill in minutes. So, it wasn't until four hours after our landing, when at 7:30 that evening, I was in the hospital still being evaluated, I got the word that, finally, everyone had been accounted for and everyone was safe, only then could I relax, because I felt as captain, as pilot in command, that everything, everyone on the airplane was my responsibility in every way until the very end of my responsibility ending. 

[00:19:38] And so, that was an obligation I, I felt very intensely and had even one person not survived, I would've, it would've changed the entire event for me, that I would've considered it a tragic failure that I would've felt deeply for the rest of my life. 

[00:19:53] Stephen: We talk a lot on this show, sir, about how important it is in a crisis not to catastrophize and not to negatively overgeneralize, and yours was a situation where it would've been very easy to catastrophize, but you seemed to have kept a completely level head. Would you attribute that to conditioning through your training, or could a lot of it do you think, have come down to genetics and other factors? What do you think? 

[00:20:19] Sully: Oh, gosh, I, I don't know that genetics play a part, although I think, like, as I said earlier, that certain personality types kind of are appropriate for these kinds of professions and, through a self-selection process, we kind of gravitate toward it, and our experiences tend to make us more that way. 

[00:20:36] So I think we do those things because we know they're important and they work. Those kinds of, controlling planning, anticipation, precision, knowledge, skill, judgment. Those are things that we just know are so important, we have to have on every day.

[00:20:53] But I think it was more learning to do this through long experience. And fortunately, especially now, when there's a lot of ageism, I happen to be in a profession where experience is valued. I mean, experience can literally mean the difference between success from failure, life and death. And hopefully with that experience, someone can gain wisdom along the way and not just about flying, but about life.

[00:21:23] And so, I think I had learned to have good judgment. I think I had learned to be wise about certain things, and I, but I think those are things that, that each of us can learn. I don't think that it's something you either have or you don't. 

[00:21:40] One of my great friends is a retired baseball manager, the third-winningest baseball manager in history, Tony La Russa. And he and I share a love of good coffee, and we'd talk about the flight and his experience. And one of the examples, one of the analogs that he uses is, in teaching his batters to perform, he uses what he is called the pep, the PEP process: preparation, exposure and process. And this goes back to your question.

[00:22:05] And so, it's also a matter of situational awareness and focus. And so, he tries to tell them, when they get to the plate, actually, before they get to the plate, they shouldn't be thinking about if I hit a home and I'll be a hero, if I strike out, I'll be a goat. They should be thinking about seeing the ball and hitting the ball.

[00:22:21] What kind of picture is this? What can I expect? You know, watch it leave the glove, leave the hand. And, so with a proper preparation by doing the batting practice by doing the homework, by doing the hard work, attaining those skills, that knowledge, and then by just having enough times at bat, flying enough hours, and then not just flying the same hour 20,000 times, but always trying to make the next flight hour better than the previous one.

[00:22:47] Being continuous learners, constantly striving for excellence, learning from those experiences, both the the successful ones and the not successful ones, and then finally, focusing on the process. If you get the process right, the results will follow. 

[00:23:02] Stephen: You've talked, both in our interview and previously, in the moments leading up to the crash, you and your co-pilot, Jeff Skiles worked in silence. Could you talk a little bit about how vital the role of the team was around you and generally the role of social support in getting people through the most difficult periods of their lives?

[00:23:23] Sully: Yeah, I'm laughing because you used the C-word, and that's one that my wife has used on, on a number of occasions, and I don't think of it that way. The NTSB called it an accident flight, which it was. I call it an "engines-out forced landing on water." But it was a hard landing, but the airplane remained intact and everyone survived. So I, you know, to me, I, I, I think I would, I would, I desc- I would draw this distinction.

[00:23:51] A crash, in my mind, is one in which the pilots are unable to exercise control of the flight path. And that never occurred for us. I was, we, our flight control still worked. We just didn't have any engine thrust. And so we were using gravity to provide the forward motion of the airplane. We were colliding toward the earth, knowing it'd be just a few minutes before we touched the earth. 

[00:24:11] I had to find the best place to do that and the best way to do that. That was the challenge. But I was able to fully control the airplane all the way through the landing, and I had tried to control it as much as I could, even after we had touched the water as we were slowing down in the river.

[00:24:27] One of the old pilot sayings is that, even if the airplane's falling apart around you, fly the airplane as much, as far as possible into the accident sequence as you can. That's what we were trying to do, exercise control until we could no longer exercise control. So, that's my distinction between a crash and a landing.

[00:24:51] But the team was important because I, not only did I not do it all myself, I couldn't have done it all. And that's something else that was always important to me in my life. In fact, I was a pioneer in that effort at my airline, 40-plus years ago, in the old days when pilots had good flying skills, but not good human skills or team skills, not good leadership skills necessarily, not good team-building skills necessarily. 

[00:25:19] And the accident rate reflected that. They didn't fully appreciate how important they are. And so, starting about 45 years ago, I had all the airlines, including mine, a number of pioneer pilots, often safety committee volunteers like I was, for the pilot union, began to pressure not only the pilot's union, but our airline, to teach us these kinds of team skills.

[00:25:43] And there were several important accident flights and several captains who did much better than expected in terrible crises because they innately understood this team concept. And so we began to teach people how, at a large airline, where you fly with people you've never seen before, strangers, all the time, how to take a collection of strangers and quickly form an effective team, so if an emergency occurs in that very first flight together, you're much better armed with the skills you need to work together to solve it. 

[00:26:12] And so I taught the very first such leadership team-building course at my airline, on that topic. So these thoughts have always been close to my mind. And, it was important that we share the same values, the same goals, the same vocabulary, the same procedures, and that we can, with just a few words, connote important information.

[00:26:37] Just one example. Now, I, I knew I had to make an important announcement before landing. Like, we're taught to that do that before the emergency landing, to warn the cabin crew and the passengers what's going to occur and to prepare, to brace for impact so that they could avoid injury during the landing and be able to evacuate the airplane afterward.

[00:26:53] And, we had in our aviational vocabulary, a lot of single words that are rich with meaning, and 'brace' is such a word. It signals to the flight attendants in the cabin that an emergency landing is imminent and that they should help the passengers avoid injury during the landing by shouting their commands to them, which in this case was "Brace, brace, brace," "Heads down, stay down."

[00:27:12] So, I had made that simple announcement, "This is the captain, brace for impact," and immediately through that armored cockpit door, I could hear the flight attendants in front began shouting their commands. And when I heard them doing that during this flight, it encouraged me. It comforted me. I knew that by giving him that coded message, by saying those few words, I had literally gotten my crew on the same page.

[00:27:37] And if I could find a way to deliver the aircraft intact on the surface, along with my first officer, Jeff Skiles, then I knew the flight attendants would be able to evacuate the airplane and, and help save the passengers' lives. And that was a watershed moment for me on that flight. 

[00:27:54] Stephen: You've also talked about having suffered from symptoms of PTSD in the weeks and months following the incident. What did that encompass and what factors do you think most helped you ultimately get back to baseline? 

[00:28:11] Sully: You know, it was a real shock to the system, I think, for all of us. And Jeff Skiles, our first officer, and our exceptional flight attendants, too, and the passengers were traumatized by it. It was a traumatic, violent event, hard landing and cold water beginning to ingress the cabin from back to front as we were evacuating. Many of the passengers assumed that they would not survive.

[00:28:37] You know, I work out, I'm a runner, and my resting pulse when I'm running a lot is probably, 48 or 50. For 10 weeks after this flight, it was 100, my resting pulse. My blood pressure, like usually 108 over 78; for 10 weeks, it was 160 over a hundred, taking blood pressure medication.

[00:28:59] That's how intense this event was for us. It took me months to be able to sleep consistently through the night again without awakening. But, you know, people can be resilient. The key insight for me to finally, there wasn't one moment when I know I'd gotten past it, but it was a process over many months, at least six months, and I couldn't go back to flying until I could sleep through the night.

[00:29:25] What the final insight for me was, I knew I had to find a way to make this experience a part of me and not something that had happened to me and to understand that this was making me a more complete person, a better person, a stronger person in certain ways, and that that was gonna change who I was, and in a good way.

[00:29:54] Now, I wouldn't want to, I wouldn't wish this on anyone. I wouldn't want to do it again, although there was one journalist early on, TV commentator, said, could you do it again? It was one of the situations where I, it was a day later when I thought of what I should have said. I should have said, "Wasn't once enough?" But yeah, I've been having, I know I could do it again, but yes, but it's, you learn to get past it.

[00:30:19] Although, for the passengers, because they did not, they, they were not ones exercising control over the, over the aircraft or themselves or their fate. So that's a very different circumstance than mine or even First Officer Jeff Skiles. Certainly the flight attendants. 

[00:30:36] Because I exercised control, then, I think, it ultimately made it easier for me and, I didn't beat myself up too much over the what-ifs, but, you know, I mean, but that was really, the demons came out at night, especially in the first days to weeks, you know, in the middle of the night when you couldn't sleep.

[00:30:52] And you're wondering all the what-ifs and should-ofs, could-ofs, you know? After a while, and I talked to Jeff Skiles about this, after a while, we both found solace in the fact that we had absolutely done the best that we could. In fact, I think we'd done better than expected. Better than many might have done.

[00:31:10] Stephen: If, though, everyone survived, couldn't you see that as, as having been a kind of mission accomplished? In other words, what else could you possibly have done to have made that situation any better? 

[00:31:23] Sully: Well, there was a lot of debate about whether or not I could have made it to a runway. It turns out with the reaction time, I could not have glided that far at that altitude.

[00:31:31] I wondered if, uh, you know, I could have-- had, if I were to do it again, I would've found a way to make it a, a more gentle touchdown. It would've done less damage. The water would've ingressed less rapidly. But, you know, I know, I know, we did as well as we could. 

[00:31:45] Stephen: You've been sir, a model for leadership since even before the landing, of course, and have since weighed in on what you believe in some areas to be America's dearth of political leadership. Without getting into specific policy or candidate preferences, what do you make of the current political landscape in America? And what qualities do you think are most vital in America's leaders, political or otherwise? 

[00:32:12] Sully: Well after this most recent midterm election, I am very encouraged. I think while we are still a very, very dis-- divided nation, as is much of the world, I think we've done some healing.

[00:32:30] I think there's a little bit better agreement about what it means to be a citizen. And what civic duties we have, what obligations as citizens we have to each other, something I strongly believe in. The kind of civic behavior that if we didn't give each other, at least occasionally, civilization wouldn't be possible. And so I'm encouraged that we are a slightly more civil society than we might have been, but we have a long way to go. 

[00:33:00] Stephen: Looking back on your career, sir, as such a successful and accomplished person, what failures would you say were most instrumental and indeed vital in your development as a leader? 

[00:33:13] Sully: Yeah, we each have what we call failures and I, not to minimize them, but in a way to make it easier to learn from them, I've, in the last several years, have begun to change the terminology I use, and I've talked about this and written about it some. I think of 'em as course corrections. You know, analogous to flying. A truer path. A better version of True North, based on our values. And I think our values, our core values are terribly important.

[00:33:41] They're guardrails that help to protect us and our organizations from making egregious errors, reminding us what's important and why. And not, and it's important to know the how and the what, the what, but as it's more important to know the why and for whom. And I try to keep that uppermost in my mind when I do everything in life.

[00:34:00] So, I think that, thinking of them as course corrections is terribly important. And I think that the things I, you know, I don't regret much, but the things I do wish I'd done differently are not failures, but things I could have done earlier, I didn't try. That I took a safer path, more predictable path.

[00:34:25] A more confident path, and I probably could have done, before 2009, some of the things I've done since 2009. And, of course, I've had a lot more opportunities to do a variety of things, like this, since 2009, I wouldn't have had previously, but I probably could have done more, some of them, if I chosen to lead to- I probably would've been able to lead a richer, fuller life had I been more willing to try new things and not just stay so narrowly in my lane.

[00:34:58] Stephen: Well, sir, that was it for my questions. Was there anything else you wanted to say? 

[00:35:03] Sully: I would leave a couple of messages with you and your audience. That we really, it becomes a cliche, but we really are all in this together and we depend, especially in a modern society, so much on others to do important things in every of our lives.

[00:35:23] We're not, unless you're a survivalist out in the wilderness, you're not gonna be doing things all for yourself, all by yourself. And I think that we have to remember that it's only when we work together that there's nothing that we cannot accomplish. And when we forget that, we're not going to accomplish very much.

[00:35:47] Stephen: Well, sir, thank you so much for your time and, and for your wisdom. 

[00:35:51] Sully: Been great talking with you. 

[00:35:52] Stephen: Thank you very much, sir. 

[00:35:55] Captain Sully Sullenberger is a former airline pilot of 30 years who completed perhaps the most storied emergency landing of an aircraft in world history. 

[00:36:04] That's all for this episode of Road to Resilience. If you enjoyed it, please rate and review us on Apple Podcasts and tell a friend. This podcast is a production of the Mount Sinai Health System in New York. It's produced by me, Stephen Calabria, and our executive producer, Lucia Lee. From all of us here in Mount Sinai, thanks for listening and we'll catch you next time.