Captain Chesley Sullenberger has steered a US Airways flight
home for the last time.
“Sully,” who was hailed a hero after piloting the US Airways flight that landed safely on the Hudson River in January of last year, retired Wednesday after 30 years with US Airways and its predecessor airline.
His final flight, number 1167 from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to his base at Charlotte (N.C.) Douglas International Airport took just under two hours. It arrived at 2:48 p.m. EST — 17 minutes ahead of schedule.
Sullenberger, 59, flew on Wednesday with his co-pilot during the Hudson landing, First Officer Jeff Skiles. Sullenberger officially retired at a private ceremony in Charlotte with fellow pilots and other US Airways employees.
Flight attendant Doreen Welsh, 59, who was on Flight 1549 when it landed in the Hudson, also officially retired Wednesday. Welsh, 59, joined US Airways’ predecessor airline in 1970 — when she was 19 years old.
All 150 passengers survived the emergency river landing in January 2009 when the a flock of Canada geese was sucked into the plane’s engines minutes after taking off from New York’s LaGuardia, headed for Charlotte, N.C.
“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.”
One of the survivors of the Hudson River landing, Mary Berkwitz, said by phone from her Stallings, N.C., office that she was disappointed to hear Sullenberger was retiring.
“Every time I get on a plane, I feel like, Oh God, I hope it’s Sully at the pilot’s seat. Now I know it’s not going to be. In a way it’s sad,” she said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Since that famous flight last year, Sullenberger has testified before Congress regarding pilot safety, given speeches about education and written a book, “Highest Duty.”
He became a member of US Airways’ flight operations safety management team last September.
Capt. James Ray, a spokesman for the US Airline Pilots Association, which represents US Airways pilots, said a US Airways pilot with as much experience as Sullenberger makes about $130,000 to $150,000 a year, about the same as 1989. Most pilots also lost some of their pensions and the prospect of new benefits after the carrier twice filed for bankruptcy protection.
Ray said that Sullenberger plans to spend more time with his family in retirement. He will also continue to talk to lawmakers about raising minimum qualifications for pilots and work to lower the maximum number of hours pilots are able to work in a single day.
While Sullenberger walked away from the emergency landing unscathed, flight attendant Welsh was seriously injured in the crash and has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
She says she is still afraid of the water.
Her ongoing unease while flying since the crash led her to leave the only job she has ever had.
“I grew up out there,” Welsh said.
Welsh plans to go on the speakers’ circuit to talk about her experiences in the crash.
“I feel grateful for still being alive,” she said. The opportunities of the last year “have been wonderful, but it was a high price to pay. And if I could go back, I would have rather just been flying and doing my job and not having gone through that, because I have to live with that for the rest of my life.”