Sully (2016)

Film and Plot Synopsis

On Thursday, January 15, 2009, the world witnessed the “Miracle on the Hudson” when pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger glided his disabled plane onto the frigid waters of the Hudson River, saving the lives of all one hundred fifty-five aboard. However, even as Sully was being heralded by the public and the media for his unprecedented feat of aviation skill, an investigation was unfolding that threatened to destroy his reputation and his career.

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‘Sully’ Movie Summary

The summary below contains spoilers.
Sully (2016)On January 15, 2009, U.S. Airways pilots Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) and First Officer Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) board their flight from LaGuardia Airport in New York City to Douglas International Airport in Charlotte. Almost immediately after they take off, the plane strikes a flock of birds which disables both engines on the plane, something that has never happened before in history. The plane is at an extremely low altitude, 2,800 feet, and Sully’s plane is without any kind of engine power.

The experienced captain determines that he doesn’t have enough speed to make it back to LaGuardia or the nearby Teterboro Airport in New Jersey. Sully makes the decision to attempt a water landing on the Hudson River. Sully lands the plane without breaking the fuselage. The entire crew and passengers are evacuated from the plane and taken safely to the shore by ships in the harbor. There are no fatalities.

In the aftermath, Sully is hailed as a hero by the press and the public. However, Sully continues to be haunted by the incident, including several dreams where he dreams of trying to take the plane back to LaGuardia, resulting in a crash in midtown New York City. To make matters worse, both pilots are put up in hotels and separated from their families until the investigation into the crash is complete. Sully is forced to talk to his wife, Lorraine (Laura Linney), over the phone only.

The crash is investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board. They and Sully learn that the preliminary data from the ACARS system suggests that the left port engine was still running at idle power during the incident and was not disabled. Further, the Board informs Sully that several computerized simulations show that the plane could have landed safely at either airport without engines. Sully and Skiles both insist that they lost both engines, which would have made it impossible for them to make it back to either airport.

Sully soon begins to realize that the Board believes that the entire accident may have been pilot error, which would end Sully’s 42 year career. Sully makes the unusual request to have the simulations rerun with live pilots during the public hearing to address the crash. Both simulations result in successful landings, one at each airport. Sully argues with the result, saying that neither simulation addressed the human factor. He points out that both sets of simulation pilots knew in advance of the situation they would face and had predetermined what their response would be. Sully also discovers that the simulation pilots had run the simulations several times before the hearing. Sully argues that in real life, precious seconds are spent analyzing the situation and deciding how to respond. The Board accepts Sully’s proposal and agrees that real life pilots would take some time to react and run emergency checks before deciding to divert the plane.

The Board adds a 35 second delay to account for the human factor in the simulation. The simulation to LaGuardia ends with the plane crashing short of the runway. The simulation to Teterboro ends with a crash into buildings before the airport. Additionally, the Board announces that the physical analysis of the left port engine confirmed the pilots’ reports that it was disabled by the bird strikes. The Board concludes that Sully acted correctly in selecting the best of the options available to him. Further, one member of the Board concludes that there was one factor that accounted for the preservation of all lives, and that factor was Sully as the pilot. Humbly, Sully says that it was not only him, but Skiles, the crew of the plane, the boat captains in the harbor, the medical staffs, and the search and rescue teams that all contributed to no lives being lost during the “Miracle on the Hudson”.

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Warner Bros. Pictures released Sully on September 9, 2016. Clint Eastwood directed the film starring Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, and Laura Linney.

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