Biden Selects Sullenberger for Aviation Ambassadorship

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Politics|Biden Selects Sullenberger for Aviation Ambassadorship

Chesley B. Sullenberger III, who gained fame as the pilot who safely landed a plane in the Hudson River, was among President Biden’s long-awaited first slate of ambassadors.

Chesley B. Sullenberger III in Washington in 2019. President Biden has nominated Mr. Sullenberger to be ambassador to the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization, a United Nations agency.
Credit...Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

June 15, 2021

Chesley B. Sullenberger III gained fame in 2009 as the pilot whose nimble maneuvers safely landed a malfunctioning plane in the Hudson River.

On Tuesday, President Biden, in a likely nod to Mr. Sullenberger’s past, selected him as his nominee for ambassador to the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization, a United Nations agency composed of 36 member states that develop policies and standards for global aviation.

Mr. Sullenberger, who went on to use his fame to urge the defeat of President Donald J. Trump in last year’s election, was one of nine ambassador nominees Mr. Biden announced.

On Jan. 15, 2009, Mr. Sullenberger, known as Sully, was the captain of a US Airways jetliner that lost power in both its engines after taking off from La Guardia Airport and smacking into a flock of geese. Carefully gliding the plane in the icy river, he averted what might have been a catastrophe and all 155 aboard survived. Witnesses and officials at the time called it miraculous.

“We’ve had a miracle on 34th Street,” Gov. David A. Paterson of New York said at a news conference afterward. “I believe now we’ve had a miracle on the Hudson. This pilot, somehow, without any engines, was somehow able to land this plane, and perhaps without any injuries to the passengers.”

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg praised Mr. Sullenberger for “a masterful job.”

Barreling toward earth, Mr. Sullenberger quickly decided to avoid densely populated areas and aimed for the Hudson instead, warning passengers to brace themselves before slamming into the river.

The passengers emerged from the plane’s emergency exits while a fleet of police boats, fireboats, tugboats and Coast Guard craft responded to the scene. All of the passengers — including one baby, both pilots and three flight attendants — were transferred to rescue boats.

The famed landing inspired the 2016 movie “Sully,” based on the pilot’s life. Directed by Clint Eastwood, the film features Tom Hanks as the pilot and largely recounts what happened after Mr. Sullenberger, his crew and the passengers were rescued from the Hudson. Mr. Sullenberger also landed several book deals, including an autobiography, “Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters,” and became a popular speaker on the lecture circuit.

In September, Mr. Sullenberger urged people to vote against Mr. Trump in an advertisement paid for by the anti-Trump group the Lincoln Project.

“From my service as an Air Force officer and a fighter pilot, I knew that serving a cause greater than oneself is the highest calling,” Mr. Sullenberger said. “And it’s in that highest calling of leadership that Donald Trump has failed us so miserably.”

He also wrote an op-ed in The New York Times in January 2020 about his childhood struggles with stuttering, an issue that Mr. Biden has often talked about.

“Vice President Biden has spoken openly — and courageously, in my view — about the pain of his severe childhood stutter,” he wrote. “He takes time to reach out to children who have suffered as he did.”

Mr. Sullenberger, who retired from commercial flying in early 2010, had a childhood love of aviation and learned to fly at age 16, while he was in high school.

Born in Denison, Texas, Mr. Sullenberger received his bachelor’s degree in psychology from the Air Force Academy in 1973. He also earned two master’s degrees, one in industrial psychology from Purdue University and another in public administration from the University of Northern Colorado.

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