US Airways Hero Pilot Searched Plane Twice Before Leaving

C.B. Sullenberger, a pilot of 40 years, is credited with heroic water landing.

ByABC News
January 15, 2009, 6:38 PM

Jan. 15, 2007— -- The hero of Flight 1549, pilot Chesley B. Sullenberger III, walked the aisle of the downed US Airways jet twice looking for passengers before exiting the plane he safely ditched in the Hudson River, saving the lives of more than 150 people onboard.

"It would appear that the pilot did a masterful job of landing the plane in the river and then making sure everybody got out," New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said of the veteran pilot and Air Force Academy graduate.

Sullenberger, 57, has more than 40 years of flying experience and served as an air force fighter pilot and instructor.

Reached at her home in California, Sullenberger's wife Lorraine confirmed to that Sullenberger was the pilot of Flight 1549 and said she was waiting to hear from US Airways personnel to confirm he was safe.

"Yes, that's my husband," she said. "I don't know what to think."

No stranger to safety and accident investigations, Sullenberger, known to his friends as Sully, has assisted in several National Transportation Safety Board investigations, served as safety chairman of the Air Line Pilots Association and founded an air safety company, Safety Reliability Methods, according to the company's Web site.

Sullenberger is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy and received masters degrees from Purdue University and the University of Northern Colorado.

The plane that Sullenberger landed in the Hudson River, an A-320 manufactured by Airbus, was carrying as many as 148 passengers and five or six crew members, according to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Only 30 seconds after takeoff, at 3:26 p.m. ET, Sullenberger reported the plane had been struck by two birds and said he wanted to return to LaGuardia Airport.

Controllers began giving him directions for return, but he requested landing clearance at the nearby Teterboro Airport in New Jersey. The tower reportedly lost contact soon after that last transmission.