Skip to main content.

Inspired Blog3 Things: Miracle on the Hudson

Find the full episode wherever you get your podcasts!

How do you say thank you to the man who saved your life? On this day 14 years ago, Flight 1549 crash-landed in the Hudson River. Captain Sully was in the pilot’s seat, and Ric Elias was in Seat 1D.

In this special episode, Ric and Captain Sully reflect on their experiences of the “Hudson Miracle” from both sides, and how it’s changed both of their lives forever.

This is 3 Things.

Listen here:

In this episode:

Sully’s early life experiences (2:00-9:45)

  • As a kid, Sully remembers climbing on the roof of his home in Texas just to see how far he could see, amazed even at a young age by what was possible in the sky.
  • His first solo flight was in the Spring of 1967 at the age of 16. He felt an immediate sense of mastery.
  • “We shouldn’t think of everything that happens that’s not ideal as a mistake. Especially in our personal lives, what we should think of is making constant course corrections. Making adjustments, vs beating yourself up.”
  • “Just good enough isn’t.” In all his years of flying, Sully always asked his crew to collect a thorough headcount, even though it wasn’t required. As a result, on the one day he needed it, he had it.

Sully & Ric’s perspectives from both sides of the cockpit wall (9:45-42:33)

  • Ric recalls that the moment the plane collided with a flock of birds, it felt like an explosion ; like something had detonated. Smoke was coming in through the cockpit. We could hear you trying to restart the engines.
  • Sully recalls listening back to the cockpit recording with copilot Jeff Skiles: “It it was shocking to us. It was so intense and so quick – it happened even faster than we remembered it. But overall, my recollections were confirmed. We didn’t sound confused or frantic – we sounded busy. We sounded organized.”
  • Ric asks, “Did you think about the switch between ‘I’m a pilot’ and ‘Now I have to save 155 lives?’ Sully’s response: “No. They’re the same. That’s the job.”
  • Sully: “You keep flying the airplane as far into the accident sequence as possible. Even as we hit the water, I was pushing hard on the right rudder in the water to straighten us out.”
  • Sully: “I remember vividly my first three conscious thoughts: “this can’t be happening.” Followed immediately by “this doesn’t happen to me.” And my third thought was more of a realization that unlike all those other flights I’d had for 42 years, this flight would not end on a runway with the aircraft undamaged. And I was OK with that, as long as I could solve the problem.”
  • Sully: “In terms of handling the stress, I knew I had to force calm on myself. I immediately felt my blood pressure spike, I experienced tunnel vision. The startle effect was huge and real. I had to compartmentalize my mind and focus clearly on the task at hand. I tried to shut out the noise in my brain saying “Danger Danger!” And I knew I did not have time to do everything I really needed to do, so I had to prioritize, finding a way to make this water landing possible.”

Ric: “Let me tell you from the other side of the wall what it was like. When you said ‘brace for impact,’ I could see that the flight attendants thought life was over, which made all of us (passengers) think life was over. I’ve always wanted to ask you, did you really think we had any chance of surviving?”

Sully: “Absolutely. My body was screaming, but I was determined to make it that way.”

  • Ric: “I know how the flight changed me. How did it change you as a person?”
  • Sully: “It’s one thing to know intellectually that bad things can happen. It’s another thing entirely to know it very deeply and personally and emotionally. I know now this isn’t something that happened to me – it’s become a part of me.”

About Captain Sullenberger:

As a former U.S. Air Force fighter pilot and an airline pilot for 30 years, Capt. 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. He most recently directed his efforts towards safety in global air travel, serving as the U.S. Ambassador and representative to the International Civil Aviation Organization, a United Nations Specialized Agency.

But for many years, Capt. Sullenberger has been vocal about safety not just in the aviation and medical fields, but across all industries. 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, Capt. 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.” In terms of total combined years of flying since they had become pilots, Capt. Sullenberger and First Officer Skiles had 75 years’ experience at that time. And in terms of total years of just airline flying experience, they had a combined 50 years, so they were an extraordinarily experienced crew.

3 Things I Learned

1) Most things in life are pass/fail, yet we are taught from an early age to grade everything. Sully reminded me today that when it comes to someone else’s life, there is no such thing as “good enough.”

2) This concept of “course correction” is so normal in aviation. What if in life, instead of thinking of things as mistakes, we thought of them as normal parts of our journey – and we’re able to course correct to get to our desired outcomes faster, and better.

3) One hundred and fifty-five of us are alive today because Sully was able to compartmentalize and prioritize in the most dire of circumstances. A great reminder as we all face our own versions of crisis to focus on tackling the problem at hand.

About 3 Things

Ric Elias learned 3 things from surviving the Miracle on the Hudson. Now he’s sharing conversations with remarkable people, and 3 things we all can take away from each.

Hear more from Ric by following him on Twitter and on Instagram.

About the Author:
Ric Elias | Co-Founder & CEO
Ric Elias

Ric Elias is CEO and co-founder of Red Ventures, a portfolio of digital companies headquartered in Charlotte, NC. In 2009, Elias survived Flight 1549, the "Miracle on the Hudson,” which led to his viral TED Talk, "3 Things I Learned While My Plane Crashed." In 2011, Ric was named Ernst & Young National Entrepreneur of the Year, and in 2016 he was inducted into the Carolinas Entrepreneur Hall of Fame. Ric has founded several social impact initiatives including Road to Hire, a 501(c)(3) that connects young adults with on-ramps to professional development and high-earning careers. A native of Puerto Rico, Ric attended Boston College and Harvard Business School.

Related Articles

Feeling Inspired?