Pirates, Crashes, Disasters Reveal True Heroes

"Training is essential in surviving and thriving in a crisis," said Sherwood. "People who have trained for adversity are better prepared to overcome it. We know this from all kinds of research."

In Phillips' case, his training allowed him to save the crew at the risk to his own personal safety. But not all captains have acted in the same manner in the past. Such was the case in 1991, when the Greek linker Oceanus encountered bad weather and began to sink off the coast of South Africa.

Capt. Yiannis Avranas reportedly shouted "abandon ship" to his crew and 170 passengers on board. Then, according to reporting by the Chicago Sun-Times, Avranas shoved and elbowed women and the elderly to get on the rescue helicopter first.

"When I ordered 'Abandon the ship,' it doesn't matter what time I leave," the Sun-Times reported he said in one interview. "Abandon is for everybody. If some people like to stay, they can stay."

Fortunately, all 561 people on board made it to shore safely -- even if Avranas' reputation did not survive.

For the most part, Sherwood said, Avranas is the odd captain and the odd man out.

"The myth of survival situations is that it's every man or woman for themselves and that people engage in animalistic, dog-eat-dog behavior," he said.

Most research Sherwood found indicated that people naturally bind together in the face of adversity, whether it be a community in a hurricane or the community of 20 sailors at sea.

"There will always be exceptions," said Sherwood. "There will always be a captain who jumps off a ship. There will always be the person who makes a run for it."

Capt. Chesley Sullenberger

Capt. Chesley B. Sullenberger III unexpectedly found himself celebrated as a hero after a bird attack left the US Airways Airbus A320 he piloted with no engines and no easy maneuver back onto a runway at New York's LaGuardia Airport.

Flying over Manhattan's looming skyline, Sullenberger calculated it would be better to ditch the plane in the Hudson River than to fly straight ahead to the nearest runway in New Jersey and risk losing power.

Not only did he successfully land and evacuate all 155 passengers on a cold January day, Sullenberger walked down the plane's aisle twice checking for stragglers before he exited the plane.

"He had a lot of training," said Sherwood, who studied the Sullenberger case. "He practiced what he knows in his field as 'deliberate calm.'"

Not only can people train for a specific situation, Sherwood said, people can undergo training to focus their emotions and thoughts to in order handle any survival situation.

"The enemy of survival is panic and stress and anxiety," said Sherwood.

In addition to learning calm, Sherwood said, those who aren't natural-born survivors can also learn a behavior called "active-passiveness" -- meaning knowing when to act and when not to act in survival situations.

Sullenberger might just be the definition of a survivor, considering his performance with the technical training to land the plane, the calm thinking to make a decision, and the ability to decide whether he should act and ditch the plane instead of pushing to the nearest airport.

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