Friday, October 2, 2009

NEW YORK | The “Miracle on the Hudson” pilots are back together.

Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and first officer Jeffrey Skiles flew Thursday from Charlotte, N.C., to New York - their first flight together since they were forced to ditch a disabled plane in the Hudson River, saving all 155 people on board.

“I was overwhelmed when I found out it was him,” said Don Lambert, 61, of Fort Mill, S.C., who was on the early morning flight to LaGuardia Airport. “You feel like you have the best pilot in the world fixing to fly you to New York.”

At a LaGuardia news conference, Mr. Sullenberger said the incident “happened at a time when people needed to know that good could still be done in the world.”

Mr. Sullenberger said the gratitude of passengers has been “an extraordinary gift.” And he bestowed the same gift on his colleague.

“You have my eternal gratitude for your skill and your courage,” he said, turning to Mr. Skiles.

US Airways had told reporters that Mr. Sullenberger’s first flight would be later Thursday out of LaGuardia, but that wasn’t true.

Airline spokesman Jonathan Freed acknowledged that the flight out of LaGuardia actually would be Mr. Sullenberger’s fourth flight since landing in the Hudson. He flew two passenger flights Sept. 11 as part of his re-training process.

His flight Thursday morning from Charlotte was his first with Mr. Skiles. The Daily News of New York was first to report the earlier flight.

When asked why US Airways released incorrect information, Mr. Freed said the flight out of LaGuardia was important because it was “symbolic” for the crew.

“It’s the one that they’re emotionally attached to,” Mr. Freed said.

Mr. Sullenberger ditched the Airbus A320 on Jan. 15 in the Hudson after a collision with a flock of geese knocked out power in both engines just minutes after takeoff from LaGuardia. All his passengers were saved, and he was celebrated as an American hero.

“Everybody cheered and clapped when we got on the plane in Charlotte,” said Wyatt Smith, 41, also from Fort Mill. “I put my seat back and took a nap. I felt really honored and safe that it was him.”

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