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From the archives: Capt. Chesley Sullenberger makes splash

Several thousand people fill the town green in

Several thousand people fill the town green in Danville, Calif., to welcome home Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, the US Airways pilot who landed in New York's Hudson River with all onboard escaping safely. (Jan. 24, 2009) Photo Credit: AP Photo/Noah Berger

This story was originally published in Newsday on January 25, 2009

They gave him a key to the city and hung a medal around his neck. The crowd even chanted "Sully! Sully!" when he took the stage.

Still, Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger remained the modest, all-in-a-day's-work pilot yesterday when he spoke to a crowd gathered in his hometown of Danville, Calif., a San Francisco suburb.

"Circumstance determined that it was this experienced crew that was scheduled to fly on that particular flight on that particular day," Sullenberger said during the ceremony honoring him. It was where he made his first public remarks since he had to ditch his plane in the Hudson River on Jan. 15.

"But I know that I can speak for the entire crew when I tell you that we were simply doing the jobs that we were trained to do," Sullenberger said.

His brief talk started with his thanking his hometown for its support during the last 10 days, which have seen Sullenberger go from unknown pilot to household name.

Sullenberger has an interview scheduled with CBS' Katie Couric, to be aired on "60 Minutes" on Feb. 8.

And there's already some Hollywood-scale drama swirling around his new celebrity. The Couric interview seems to come at the expense of NBC's "Today" show, which had announced in a promotional advertisement last week that it had secured the exclusive first interview.

But the thin, gray-haired man with the mustache who took the stage in Danville yesterday made no mention of the media sword fight over him.

"It's great to be home in Danville with our neighbors and our friends," said Sullenberger, who sat next to his wife, Lorrie, onstage.

The hometown ceremony was the latest high-profile pat on the back for Sullenberger since he skillfully landed US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson after his jet's engines were stopped, apparently by flocks of birds.

In the days after the landing, he fielded calls from President George W. Bush and President-elect Barack Obama. Obama made certain that Sullenberger and his family got an invite to Tuesday's inauguration in Washington.

An admitted Facebook novice, his page has more than 24,000 messages posted on his wall, and he's amassed more than a half-million fans.

The message on his page reads: "While I don't use Facebook, my daughters do, and they showed me this page. Thank you so much for your amazing outpouring of support. I'll be in touch again soon. - Sully."

Yesterday in New York, National Transportation Safety Board officials wrapped up their field investigation of the crash, finding evidence of "soft body impact" on the left engine, which was pulled out of the Hudson on Friday.

The engines will be shipped to the manufacturer in Cincinnati, where NTSB investigators will oversee a complete tear-down, the NTSB said yesterday.

"We still have mountains of work to do," Chief Inspector Robert Benzon said. "Examining training records, training programs, the engines have to be taken apart to determine the amount of bird damage."

A preliminary report on the crash is expected in three or four months, he said.

US AIRWAYS FLIGHT 1549

THE CRASH

About 90 seconds after takeoff Jan. 15 from LaGuardia Airport, bound for Charlotte, N.C., US Airways Flight 1549 pilots reported seeing a flock of birds. Almost immediately after the sighting, the Airbus 320's two jet engines stop running. Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger and First Officer Jeff Skiles report to air traffic controllers at LaGuardia that they hit birds. Sullenberger takes control of aircraft and selects the Hudson River for an emergency landing.

THE RESCUE

The jet splashes down at 3:30 p.m., only six minutes after takeoff. The crew begins immediate evacuation of the plane. Ferry and tour boat operators, and police and fire boats, begin arriving to help rescue passengers, who are in rafts and stranded on the wings of the aircraft. All 155 passengers and crews survive.

THE INVESTIGATION

Federal Aviation Administration tapes of communications between the pilots and air traffic controllers record Sullenberger saying that his plane "hit birds."

FAA radar showed images that could have been a flock of birds near Flight 1549 at 3,000 feet about the time pilots reported engine failure.

Examination of the jet's right engine, which was still attached to the fuselage, turned up a feather and "organic material" that was sent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for DNA analysis.

WHAT'S NEXT?

The National Transportation Safety Board will issue a preliminary report on Flight 1549 in three or four months. A final report usually takes 18 months.

This story was supplemented with Associated Press reports.

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