At 3:30pm last Thursday I was in my office at Saatchi NY overlooking the Hudson River when the US Air Airbus landed in the middle of the river. It brought back horrible memories of 9/11 and for several minutes the atmosphere in the office was frightfully tense.

A couple of helicopters buzzed the building and we could all see this huge plane somehow staying afloat. Within seconds, the helicopters dropped divers into the freezing river (it was about 7-degrees below 0) and passenger ferries were busy winching the plane to keep it afloat. We could clearly see passengers wearing lifejackets climbing out onto the fuselage while some of them fell into the icy water. We immediately turned on CNN where it was confirmed this was a bird strike not a terrorist attack.

And then we watched as the amazing rescue effort unfolded before our eyes. All of the 155 passengers and crew survived with 71 people treated for minor injuries and hypothermia. This really is one of the miracles of our age. Landing an Airbus on a freezing cold river is beyond belief. The captain, Chesley Sullenberger (“Sully”), was a real pro and took command. He also had gliding experience which I’m sure came in handy as he floated his engineless monster plane into the river. He got there from LaGuardia in about 5-1/2 minutes on no engines and made a unilateral command decision to put the plane down on the river, which I believe is only the 4th time in history a jet has ever made a water landing. (I remember one of them was in Russia 30-40 years ago and that also ended well.) Full credit to all concerned (especially the Harbor Master who had 60 seconds to clear the river for a jet landing!!!) with one exception. That exception was the CEO of US Air who in his press conference was corporate, wooden, unfeeling and emotionless. A living example of bureaucracy and over-hyped legal and PR operators. Everyone else was a hero. The captain, the crew (they cleared the plane in 90 seconds. Why do American Airlines take 12 minutes at JFK??) the ferry boat rescuers, the divers, NY police; Bloomberg has really improved NY’s readiness following 9/11 and it showed.

It was a pretty rough time for all our people for a few minutes and then the place erupted in cheers when it was clear that what we were watching was in fact a miracle of human endeavor, commitment and accountability. Sully Won Ugly.

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Kevin Roberts

Kevin Roberts is founder of Red Rose Consulting; business leader and educator; author and speaker; adviser on marketing, creative thinking and leadership.


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