Strategic CIO // Executive Insights & Innovation
Commentary
1/16/2009
12:49 PM
Bob Evans
Bob Evans
Commentary
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US Airways Crash And Hero Pilot Sully Sullenberger

Yesterday's US Airways crash in the Hudson River has had me thinking about risk management of a very personal kind. In the past decade I've flown US Airways out of LaGuardia hundreds of times, and the views of skyscrapers and bridges and rivers have dazzled me each time. But next time -- a few days from now -- will probably stir some different reactions.

Yesterday's US Airways crash in the Hudson River has had me thinking about risk management of a very personal kind. In the past decade I've flown US Airways out of LaGuardia hundreds of times, and the views of skyscrapers and bridges and rivers have dazzled me each time. But next time -- a few days from now -- will probably stir some different reactions.As my wife and I last night were watching news reports of the passengers being pulled from the frigid Hudson River, I tried to recall the last time I actually listened to a flight attendant describe the emergency-evacuation procedures -- I didn't have a clue. Then I had a hazy recollection of being on millions of flights whose flight plans included going over thousands of miles of solid land interspersed occasionally by only a few hundred feet of water and thinking, "How stupid is THAT?" as prerecorded safety announcements would say, "In the unlikely event of a water landing, your seat cushion will serve as a flotation device."

What moron, I would think, insisted that they run that stupid tape on every landlocked flight? Don't they know I'm terribly busy trying to read the sports page or talk too loud on my cell phone or ignore the person next to me? Don't they realize how important I am, how above-it-all I am? And don't they know that this flight will NEVER have to make a "water landing" so I don't give a rat's ass about their worthless seat-cushion-flotation device??

Well, next time during the boarding process I think I won't be quite so full of myself, and I think I'll listen at least fairly closely to the safety instructions. And most of all I'll be hoping that plane is manned by a pilot even half as good as the one who was flying US Airways 1549 yesterday, Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger III. This unqualified hero is a former U.S. Air Force fighter pilot, former safety chairman of the Air Line Pilots Association, scholarly author on aviation safety, graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, and recently appointed Visiting Scholar at the University of California, Berkeley.

And yesterday, as his plane was sinking into the Hudson, with most of its windows submerged, Sully Sullenberger made sure everyone was off the plane before he himself exited. News reports said he walked the length of the incredibly precarious plane not once but twice before being satisfied all passengers had escaped, and only then did he leave.

So if Sully Sullenberger -- pilot, warrior, scholar, and hero -- can do that, then I can sure as hell take some responsibility for my own personal risk management and pay attention as the crew offers what turned out to be lifesaving advice. That's what I'll be thinking of Wednesday morning as my plane, in just its first few minutes of being airborne on my "landlocked" flight, roars over Long Island Sound and then, in sight of the East River, crosses the Harlem River before reaching the mighty Hudson River, after which its course will likely take it across the Passaic River and maybe even the Raritan River and portions of Newark Bay. And I'll be saying a prayer of thanks for extraordinary men like Sully Sullenberger.

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