“This is the captain. Brace for impact.”
On January 15, 2009, the hundred and fifty passengers and five crew members flying US Airways flight 159 barely had time to register those words. Seconds later Captain Chesley (Sully) Sullenberger made a rare skillful (though incalculably risky) landing on the surface of New York’s Hudson River.
Two minutes after takeoff, barely five minutes into its flight, the jet collided with a flock of Canada geese. The collision damaged both engines, causing an almost complete loss of thrust.
Few of us can forget the images we saw in the media that day. The partially submerged jet rested with disquieting calm on the river’s surface, while stunned passengers stood on its wings, waiting patiently for rescue. All but Captain Sully. He remained in the plane, walking through the seats and aisles, searching for any possibly missed passengers.
Due to his diligence, Sully didn’t lose a single passenger or crew member that day. Only a handful of people received injuries; none critical.
In his subsequent book, Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters, Sullenberger explored the qualities of leadership, revealing what led him to making the right decision that day. For his entire career, he had focussed on preparedness.
Before becoming a commercial pilot, Captain Sully had trained and been employed by the US Air Force. He’d analyzed data in countless air disasters, visited the sites of numerous crashes. He’d seen the heartbreaking wreckages, heard the testimony of the few survivors, realized the tragic consequences of single wrong decisions. He understood the importance of preparing for every eventuality, of knowing precisely what actions to take in crisis. He’d read, almost memorized, the manuals for his planes.
When Flight 159 made impact with the geese; when it didn’t recover, Sully’s training took over. In those moments, he did everything right. Calmly, objectively and excellently, considering above all the safety of the souls on board.
Subsequent criticism, investigation and analysis followed that Hudson River landing, but in everything, the Captain’s decisions were found sound. His preparedness paid off.
Life doles out crises with an uneven hand, but very few people fly through their years in constantly blue skies, landing softly at the end of life. Most of us face unexpected turbulence in our lives, along with the occasional crash landing.
In the Holy Bible, God has provided us with a manual on preparing well for life’s disasters, a Holy Book meant not only to be read, but explored, interacted with and studied. He’s also provided a Captain far wiser and greater than Sully. His Holy Spirit guides through the circumstances that break us. He never abandons us during inevitable crash landings, even when we’ve stubbornly taken ourselves off course. He guides, teaches, supports and comforts. And if we’re not already doing so, he stands by, simply waiting for us to pay attention to wisdom.
The 2020 doomsayers have already spoken. The flight has launched. May I introduce you to the Captain?