The pilot of the "Miracle on the Hudson" has folded his wings.
Shortly before 3 p.m. Wednesday, Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger - the hero of US Airways Flight 1549's safe landing on the Hudson River in January 2009 - landed a commercial flight at his home base in Charlotte, N.C., one last time.
Sullenberger and co-pilot Jeffrey Skiles, who also was in Flight 1549's cockpit for the emergency water landing, were at the controls of Flight 1167 from Fort Lauderdale. They were greeted at Charlotte Douglas International Airport with the traditional water-cannon salute given to all retiring pilots, said Capt. James Ray, a spokesman for the U.S. Airline Pilots Association, which represents US Airways pilots.
Walking off Flight 1167, Sullenberger was met by hundreds of fans and reporters before attending a private party with fellow pilots and employees. "Basically, he is going to start a new life, spend a little more time with his family, but is also booked for speaking engagements for the next year," Ray said.
Sullenberger, 59, who must retire at age 65 according to Federal Aviation Administration rules, has been heralded for his actions on Jan. 15, 2009, when the engines of the Airbus A320 lost thrust after the jet was struck by a flock of Canada geese. He made an emergency landing on the river, and all 150 passengers and five crew members survived.
"Each generation of pilots hopes that they will leave their profession better off than they found it," Sullenberger said in a statement. "In spite of the best efforts of thousands of my colleagues, that is not the case today.
"Though I am retiring, I will continue to serve as the same kind of advocate I have always been - not only for aviation safety, but for the airline piloting profession. I will work to remind the entire industry - and those who manage and regulate it - that we have a sacred duty to our passengers to do the very best that we know how to do."
Doreen Welsh, 59, one of three flight attendants who were on the harrowing flight, joined Sullenberger in serving her last customers, and five passengers from Flight 1549 made the special journey Wednesday to be with Sullenberger.
"I made a special effort," Clay Presley, 55, of Charlotte, said by phone shortly after the flight. "I had gotten wind about it and I certainly wanted to be a part of it. It was a small thing that I could do to pay tribute.
"It was a little bit eerie when Sullenberger comes on and says he is assisted by co-pilot Jeff Skiles. There was an aura of celebration about it, and it was a fitting tribute to Sully."