The now-famous US Airways pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger was interviewed for the first time since piloting his aircraft, passengers and crew to a safe landing in the Hudson River.
NBC’s Matt Lauer conducted the interview from Washington this morning. Below is a transcript:
Lauer: Captain Sullenberger, thanks so much for being with us today.
Sully: Thank you, Matt. Please, call me Sully.
Lauer: Okay, Sully. First off — that was such an amazing landing, and that there were no casualties is truly a miracle. Do you believe that the fact that a potential tragedy was averted had anything to do with it being in such close proximity to the date of Obama’s inauguration?
Sully: Well, uh, I credit the training that US Airways provided all of us for just such an emergency.
Lauer: Training played a key role, of course. Let’s cut to some video now [begin video of Obama’s whistlestop tour]. You credit the training of you and your crew, and is it just coincidental that Obama was on a train — training if you will — just one day after you flew into a flock of birds?
Sully: I’m not sure I get where you’re goi…
Lauer (interrupting): You’re being humble, Sully, but your miraculous landing did have something to do with this training, yes?
Sully: I think it’s proof of that.
Lauer: Of Obama’s divinity?
Sully: No, no. Of the professionalism and highly trained nature of the flight crew.
Lauer: So, take us through the event from wheels-up, to the time of the bird strike, to your landing.
Sully: Well, the takeoff proceeded normally. We’d made it up to about 3,000 feet when…
Lauer (interrupting): Could you see the site of Obama’s inauguration from up there?
Sully: What? No… we were in New York, and that’s in Washington. Anyway, we hit a huge flock of geese that were flying south.
Lauer: Probably to Obama’s inauguration. Go on.
Sully: Um, and both engines cut out on us. We had only a split-second to decide what to do.
Lauer: Just like the split-second decisions President Obama will be making in coming years.
Sully: Kind of. So… I knew we wouldn’t make it to any other airport with both engines out, and our only chance was to ditch in the Hudson.
Lauer: Obama likes water too. Did you see those pictures of him swimming in Hawaii? Katie (Couric) has them hanging in her office. Some nights you can hear her in there making odd noises, but we’re too afraid to ask, ya know?
Sully: I guess that’s her business. So we… uh… put down in the Hudson, and had to get everybody out quickly.
Lauer: I’ve been meaning to ask you about getting everybody out. As we all know, US Airways has had more than its share of problems with violating the civil rights of Muslims. A Muslim group is claiming that you ditched because you wanted to get some Muslims off the plane. Is that an accurate accusation?
Sully: Oh come on, Matt… can we stick to the poi…
Lauer (interrupting): Obama’s not a Muslim, you know. I think that silly accusation has been effectively put down, so if you’re telling me you didn’t want to see his inauguration site just because you think he’s a Muslim, or that you landed in the Hudson to kick his Muslim brothers off your aircraft, you’re way off base sir.
Sully: Look Matt, I’ve got to get going.
Lauer: Did you know there are over 5,000 Port-o-potties at Obama’s inauguration? Everybody’s gonna go to the bathroom outdoors, just like when Lincoln was president.
Sully: I hadn’t heard that, but in my own defense, I’ve been kind of busy.
Lauer: Busy kicking Muslims off your plane? You know, we’ve done a little research, and seven of your passengers were going to be connecting from your scheduled destination of Charlotte, North Carolina to Washington, DC for the inauguration. America should be proud to know that they’re still going to make it to the inauguration, in spite of your best efforts.
Sully: I’m outta here.
Lauer: So there you have it. A harrowing tale from a man who will someday realize that he, his crew and all his passengers, were saved by Obama. This story serves as a reminder that we’re all merely Obama’s co-pilots on the long, non-stop flight to hope.
“Life imitates art” update: Captain Sullenberger will meet the person who saved the lives of his passengers: Pilot and family invited to inauguration