The wife of the pilot who guided a crippled US Airways jet into the Hudson River, sparing the lives of all 155 on board, characterized her husband Friday as a "a pilot's pilot" who "loves the art of the airplane."
Lorrie Sullenberger, the wife of Flight 1549's pilot Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger III, said she and their teenage daughters were "very shocked" but "very proud."
The family was stunned to learn of the emergency water landing Chesley Sullenberger had to make in New York City Thursday after birds apparently disabled both of the plane's engines, his wife said.
"We were in shock all day yesterday. Today we're just waking up after the fact," she told reporters outside their Danville, Calif., home. "We are very grateful that everyone was off the aircraft safely, and that was really what my husband asked to convey to everyone. And of course we are very proud of Dad and very shocked."
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She said she hadn't spoken much to her husband since the ordeal.
"He's feeling better today," said Lorrie Sullenberger, flanked by her daughters. "He's a pilot. He's very controlled and very professional."
She said she doesn't usually worry about his safety on the job because accidents are so rare.
"My husband has said over the years that it's highly unlikely for any pilot to ever have an incident in his career, let alone something like this. I'm never afraid, so it never crosses my mind," she said. "Your mind just never goes to something like this."
After the emergency landing that many were calling a miracle, 57-year-old Chesley Sullenberger became an instant hero.
He was honored by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg with a key to the city on Friday. Bloomberg also honored the rest of the crew, rescue workers and civilians who helped avert a disaster.
Sullenberger is a former fighter pilot who runs a safety consulting firm in addition to flying commercial aircraft.
He has flown for US Airways since 1980 and flew F-4 fighter jets with the Air Force in the 1970s. He then served on a board that investigated aircraft accidents and participated later in several National Transportation Safety Board investigations.
Sullenberger's co-pilot was Jeff Skiles, 49, of Oregon, Wis., a 23-year US Airways veteran who was also being praised.
"He was OK," said his wife, Barbara. "He was relieved that everybody got off."
The Airbus 320 took off from New York's LaGuardia Airport about 3:26 p.m. Thursday en route to Charlotte, N.C. Less than a minute later, a flock of birds apparently flew into the plane, disabling both its engines.
Sullenberger was going to make an emergency landing in New Jersey, but decided to turn around. He reported a "double bird strike" and said he needed to return to LaGuardia, said Doug Church, a spokesman for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.
Passengers quickly realized something was terrifyingly wrong.
"I heard an explosion, and I saw flames coming from the left wing, and I thought, `This isn't good,'" said Dave Sanderson, 47, who was heading home to Charlotte from a business trip. "Then it was just controlled chaos. People started running up the aisle. People were getting shoved out of the way."
On the way back, Sullenberger realized he was going to have to land in the river. He told passengers to "brace for impact" and brought the plane down safely in the icy water.
One passenger described the impact as about the same as a rear-end collision. Miraculously, no one was seriously injured and everyone onboard survived. They exited onto the jet's wings and were rescued by boats.
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Sullenberger had been studying the psychology of keeping airline crews functioning even in the face of crisis, said Robert Bea, a civil engineer who co-founded UC Berkeley's Center for Catastrophic Risk Management.
Bea said he could think of few pilots as well-situated to bring the plane down safely than Sullenberger.
"When a plane is getting ready to crash with a lot of people who trust you, it is a test.. Sulley proved the end of the road for that test. He had studied it, he had rehearsed it, he had taken it to his heart."
Sullenberger is president of Safety Reliability Methods, a California firm that uses "the ultra-safe world of commercial aviation" as a basis for safety consulting in other fields, according to the firm's Web site.
Sullenberger's mailbox at the firm was full on Thursday. A group of fans sprang up on Facebook within hours of the emergency landing.
"OMG, I am terrified of flying but I would be happy to be a passenger on one of your aircraft!!" Melanie Wills in Bristol wrote on the wall of "Fans of Sully Sullenberger." "You have saved a lot of peoples lives and are a true hero!!"
The pilot "did a masterful job of landing the plane in the river and then making sure that everybody got out," Bloomberg said. "He walked the plane twice after everybody else was off, and tried to verify that there was nobody else on board, and he assures us there was not."
"He was the last one up the aisle and he made sure that there was nobody behind him."
Gov. David Paterson pronounced it a "miracle on the Hudson."
A woman who answered the phone at Sullenberger's home in Danville hung up on a reporter who asked to speak with the family.
Candace Anderson, a member of the Danville town council who lives a few blocks from Sullenberger, said it was an amazing story and she was proud to live in the same town as the pilot.
"You look at his training, you look at his experience. It was just the right pilot at the right time in charge of that plane that saved so many lives," Anderson said. "He is a man who is calm, cool, collected, just as he was today."
If the accident was hard to imagine, so was the result: Besides one victim with two broken legs, there were no other reports of serious injuries to the 155 people aboard.
"You're happy to be alive, really," 23-year-old passenger Bill Zuhoski said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.