o c t o b e r 2 0 1 6 A L I V E E A S T B A Y 31 could bail out and rejoin friends in his squadron a day later. There are certain traits that seem to be consistent with those heroes I’ve had contact with. I am always struck by their quiet confidence and humility. For those from the military, this stems from their knowledge that most of the heroes did not return from places like Normandy and Iwo Jima, nor did they get medals. Duty, honor, and sacrifice are more than just words to those who have served in combat. For those in the first responder community, almost any situation can take a sudden turn towards disaster. While good training and lots of practice keeps them reasonably safe, all too often a dispatch ends with the playing of bagpipes, so there is a strong bond among themselves to leave no one behind. People who perform heroic acts have the ability to quite the mind and focus their thoughts on just those few essential details that determine whether the outcome is life or death. They are able to overcome their fears and make rationale decisions even in the midst of a sensory maelstrom. Rationale does not necessary mean “logical”… though sometimes it means falling on a hand grenade to save your buddies in the foxhole beside you. All professional pilots are trained in rapid decision making skills. The USAF teaches its aviators a specific process called the OODA loop—observe, orient, decide and act. But life-threatening emergencies happen very rarely and simulated emergencies have a “shelf life” in the mind and reflexes of a pilot. The pilot-in-command must have a psyche that overrides the natural human tendency to panic when under great stress. Captain Sullenberger’s experiences in the USAF, plus the many flight hours logged in airliners and training simulators were all invaluable in allowing him to quickly orient himself to a very fluid situation once both engines went out of commission simultaneously. But his innate mental abilities allowed him to process information quickly, determine several potential options, and reject the sub-optimal ones in favor of the most rationale solution. You can hear it in his voice on the FAA control tower tapes. His focus was finding a way to land the airliner (a huge glider, in reality), not chatting with the tower operators, or screaming at the crew or saying Hail Mary’s. He quickly and rationally determined how to maneuver his aircraft into a survivable “landing envelope.” Even more impressive was how he quickly expanded that into a “passenger survivability envelope” by putting the aircraft down near the ferries, trusting that the first responders in the water would do their jobs just as well. This Danville pilot has “the right stuff” – sounds pretty close to “hero” to me! Way to go Sully !
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