Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger and First Officer Jeffrey Skiles, the US Airways pilots who made an amazing emergency landing in the Hudson River saving the lives of all 155 people onboard, hit the skies today in a well-scripted event designed to mirror the January flight that never reached its destination.
Sullenberger and Skiles flew from Charlotte, N.C., to New York this morning before a return flight later in the afternoon, the same route the two were to have taken in January before a pack of geese intervened and sent the plane into the icy Hudson River waters.
Sullenberger has since become a celebrity, and at a prearranged news conference this morning he said the crash happened "at a time when people needed to know that good could still be done in the world."
"It's good to be back in New York. It's good to be back at work," he said.
Today's round-trip flight was thought to be Sullenberger's first commercial flight since that "Miracle on Hudson" emergency landing, but a US Airways spokesman informed throngs of reporters gathered to meet the plane at New York's LaGuardia Airport that Sullenberger actually flew two "test" flights with passengers between Charlotte and Atlanta on Sept. 11.
The news that today was not in fact his first flight, as the company had seemingly billed it, moved many reporters who had booked seats to cancel plans to take the return flight to Charlotte.
But for the surprised passengers aboard this morning's flight, those specifics weren't important.
Don Lambert, a 61-year-old Vietnam veteran from Fort Mills, S.C., who was on the morning flight to New York, said he recognized Sullenberger the moment he stepped onto he plan and quietly entered the cockpit.
"It was sort of like coming back from Vietnam," Lambert, collecting his bags at New York's LaGuardia Airport, said of the flight, which described as "jubilant." "Everybody was clapping and screaming."
Another surprised passenger was Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, who walked into the cockpit to shake Sullenberger's and Skiles' hands.
"They saved a lot of my constituents' lives," McCrory said. "A lot of my neighbors were on that flight."
While some passengers were surprised by their celebrity crew, reporters turned out in droves after US Airways alerted the media earlier in the week.
Within minutes of the announcement Wednesday of what was thought to be Sullenberger's first flight back, all seats on his plane were sold out. Presumably members of the media -- including several from this network -- rushed to be on that flight. (None of the other 10 US Airways flights between New York and Charlotte were sold out as of late Wednesday.)
The airline's media relations even changed its phone menu, greeting callers on Wednesday with a message that said, "If you are a journalist inquiring about the return to flight of Capt. "Sully" Sullenberger and the reunion flight with First Officer Jeff Skiles, press 1."
At the press conference today, taxi dispatchers, baggage handlers and several dozen other airport employees crowded around a mass of reporters to hear what Sullenberger and Skiles had to say.
US Airways CEO Doug Parker said the reunion flight Sullenberger's and Skiles' idea, adding, "we couldn't be more proud to have them here today."