Flight 1549: An Emotional Reunion

The Crew Of US Airways Flight 1549 Meet Some Of The Survivors They Saved

This story was first published on Feb. 8, 2009. It was updated on July 4, 2009.

There are 150 people who might not be alive today if it weren't for Captain Sullenberger and his crew. 60 Minutes invited some of the passengers to reunite with them in Charlotte, N.C., the city that was supposed to be the final destination for US Airways flight 1549.



When the crew walked into a hotel ballroom in Charlotte, survivors and some of their relatives gave them a good round of applause.

"Thank you for saving my life," one woman told Capt. Sullenberger.

"You just did an incredible job," a man said. "Really. Really. Really proud."

"Thank you so much for bringing my husband home to me," a woman told the captain.

At the event, Sullenberger and the crew made the rounds, meeting grateful people, some of whom even had specially made T-shirts. One man's shirt read: "SULLY is my co-pilot," which the captain signed.

"More than one woman came up to me and said, 'Thank you for not making me a widow. Thank you for allowing my three-year-old son to have a father,'" Sullenberger told Katie Couric.

"One man had told me that you know, I was looking at him. He was in first class, and he seemed to be very anxious. And I just told him, just, you know, 'Be calm, and you know, just try to breathe,'" flight attendant Sheila Dail remembered.

"I can't tell you how frightened I was when we were coming down and I was just thinking this person is looking at me and she's telling me everything is going to be fine. Thank you again," that very passenger told Dail at the Charlotte reunion.

"He showed me a picture of himself with his niece, and the niece was a child of his brother, who was killed in 9/11," Dail said.

"And he told me, he didn't think that his family could take losing a second son," Sullenberger added.

"My brother was a firefighter killed at the Trade Center," the passenger told Sullenberger. "And the whole way down I'm thinking my family's not gonna survive this. I've gotta get off this airplane. I can't believe that everyone walked off that airplane. It's a miracle. And I really thank you."

"You know, 155 is a number, but when you can faces to it and not just 155 faces but the other faces, the wives, the daughters, the sons, the fathers, the mothers, the brothers," Sullenberger told Couric.

"I simply wanted to thank all of you for coming. I think today was as much and as good for me and my crew as it was for you. We will be joined forever because of the events of January 15th, in our hearts and in our minds. Goodbye," Sullenberger told the crowd at the reunion.

The Reunion:



It was an emotional experience for all of them, following weeks that Capt. Sullenberger described as surreal: there was the Super Bowl, the inauguration and a chance to meet the president, and a celebration in his hometown of Danville, Calif.

But like many of the passengers, the crew members are also having difficulty processing what happened, including Captain Sullenberger.

"One of the hardest things for me to do in this whole experience was to forgive myself for not having done something else. Something better. Something more complete. I don't know," he told Couric. "The first few nights were the worst. When the 'what ifs' started. The second guessings would come. Made sleep hard."

"Like what?" Couric asked.

"Just replaying it. You know, flashbacks. 'Were we aware of everything we could have been aware of.' 'Did we make the best choices.' All those kinds of thoughts," he told her.

"And when you think that way, do you regret anything that you did?" Couric asked.

"No. Not now," Sullenberger said.

Captain Sullenberger says he plans to fly again later this summer. For now, he and his family are finding comfort going through the mountain of mail he's received from all over the world.

"Mr. Sullenberger, great job, I'd like to buy you a beer. Albeit a cheap domestic one. Five dollars enclosed. God bless," one letter read.

"Dear Captain Sullenberger, in a world that seems to be full of bad news, it was such a wonderful day on January 15th," another letter read.

"Dearest Captain Sullenberger. Big Apple hero. Yesterday I received a voicemail from my 84-year-old father who lives on the 30th floor of a building with river views here in Manhattan. Had you not been so skilled, my father or others like him in their sky-high buildings could have perished along with your passengers had not you landed in the river as you had. As a Holocaust survivor my father taught me that to save a life is to save a world as you never know what the person you've saved nor his or her prodigy will go on to contribute to the peace and healing of the world. Bless you dear Captain Sullenberger. New York loves you. That is my favorite one," Sullenberger's wife Lorrie read.

"Yeah, mine too," Sullenberger agreed.

"You've been called a hero by a lot of people. How do you feel about that?" Couric asked.

"I don't feel comfortable embracing it, but I don't want to deny it. I don't want to diminish their thankful feeling toward me by telling them that they're wrong. I'm beginning to understand why they might feel that way," he replied.

Asked why that is, Sullenberger said, "Something about this episode has captured people's imagination. I think they want good news. I think they want to feel hopeful again. And if I can help in that way, I will."

Sullengberger's co-pilot, Jeffrey Skiles, got back in the cockpit this past spring. As for flight attendants Donna Dent and Sheila Dail, they plan to start flying again this fall. Doreen Welsh isn't sure if and when she'll be able to go back to work.


Read about the bird strike and landing, as well as the dramatic evacuation.



Produced by Tanya Simon, Lori Beecher and Andrew Metz
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