history demands good shoes

1/15/09

There have been far too many low-flying planes off-course in New York City this decade, but at least this one had a fantastic ending – worthy of This Here’s How You Do It training videos for the next fifty years.

This one also hit close to home – the USAir LGA-CLT flight is one I’ve taken myself many times, and no doubt many of you have too. In that vein, I asked old friend and longtime reader Chuck Price (and by proxy, his brilliant wife Kathleen) to write tonight’s blog. As you’ll see, they were intimately involved with today’s news on several levels. Here’s Chuck:

***

How much is that worth?

I spent the better part of my day today watching the stock price of the company I work for. You see, my company has lost billions upon billions of market value in the last twelve months as the financial system has tanked, and given that my wife also works there – and has for 15 years – we lost a nice chunk of personal market value along the way.

What chaps me are the articles about all the Wall Street titans, the geniuses who thought up all the crap that cratered the global economy, and how they were paid millions upon millions to do it. They say you can’t make something out of nothing, but that’s not true. They managed to turn nothing – i.e. no value, no income, no assets – into a stinking pile of crap that they then littered around the global financial landscape like toxic confetti, a complete and total mess that you and me and every other taxpayer is now ponying up to fix. And they got paid to do it. Now tell me, how much is that worth?

But this isn’t just an ordinary rant on the selfish bastards of Wall Street and the huge hole they blew into the pockets of ordinary people. No, this is a different commentary altogether, because of what happened this afternoon.

You see, as another incomprehensible day on the stock market wound down toward the final bell, I picked up my phone. It was my wife calling from the trading floor. She said something about a plane crashing into the Hudson River. And then everything about the day changed. Because that plane was leaving LaGuardia bound for Charlotte, and any time you get on a plane out of LaGuardia headed for Charlotte, there is somebody you know on that plane. And this time was no different.

This time it was a guy I work with, the guy who has a five-month-old baby. A guy who sits 20 feet away and laments the current state of UNC basketball and other mundane things with me. This time it was our neighbor two doors down – Molly, our good friend and co-worker, a wife, a mother of two small girls that our girls count as their closest friends. She had recently taken a job on the “transition team”, a euphemism for “the team that climbs through the intricate maze that is a merger of two large corporations”.

It required her to fly a lot, be gone a lot, be away from her girls more than she would like. And now it had just landed her in the Hudson River with 154 other people. How much is that worth?

Details are starting to emerge about the guy behind the wheel. And unlike some other stories you have heard lately about the train conductor who was drunk when the trains collided, or the athlete who was juiced, or even the douchebag who ran the biggest Ponzi scheme in history and defrauded charities out of entire endowments, the guy flying Flight 1549 today is actually one of the good guys.

He’s an ex-Air Force F-4 fighter pilot and he’s been doing this job at USAirways for almost 30 years – when he’s not teaching other pilots how to fly safe or investigating other crashes to learn how to prevent the next one. So when his push came to shove, he calmly turned the plane away from the city and out over the water, told the passengers to “prepare for impact” and set a freaking Airbus down in the icy waters of the Hudson River like a mother laying her newborn baby down for a nap.

In less than two minutes, all the passengers were outside the plane, either on the wings or in rafts (or in the case of our friend Molly, in the hypothermia-inducing 41 degree water). They were watching what must have been a glorious sight – every type and size of boat streaming toward that sinking metal tube. Ferry boats, tug boats, big red boats with FDNY emblazoned on the side. I heard a newscaster tonight comment something along the lines of “Thank God for New Yorkers. We know from past experience that when they see disaster, they rush toward it to help.” How much is that worth?

I just got back from watching Molly and Jason’s kids while Jason went to pick up Molly from the airport. To further my point about every LaGuardia-to-Charlotte flight: two of Jason’s co-workers were on that plane today (Jason’s CEO chartered a jet to fly up there and bring all three home). By pure happenstance one of Jason’s co-workers was actually sitting in the window seat of an exit row… next to Molly.

She said that during the final seconds of the descent, while everyone was bracing for the crash with hands over heads, Jason’s co-worker – her seatmate – was sitting there intently scanning the directions on the emergency exit door. Once the plane splashed down and came to a stop, he immediately unbuckled, stood up, and threw open the door. How much is that worth?

They say teachers don’t get paid enough, and that is absolutely true. Today has proven beyond a doubt that airline pilots don’t get paid enough either. Or firefighters or police officers or nurses or social workers. Every day they go to work and do their jobs, and each and every one of them holds lives in their hands, whole lives, lives that have meaning and depth and importance to somebody else.

In a split second, that pilot made a decision based on experience, knowledge, years of doing, learning, teaching, just being someone who is dedicated to his job and who works hard and has a certain level of integrity and accountability. And that decision saved the lives of 154 people, and how many other countless people whose lives would be forever altered if he made a different decision. How much is that worth?

Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger, III. Let’s give this guy some of the TARP money.

***

HudsonPlaneCellPic(bl).jpg

cell phone pic on Twitter by user jkrums

WinslowHomerGulfStream(bl).jpg

“The Gulf Stream” by Winslow Homer,, who also painted the Hudson – when I saw the pic above, it reminded me of this… -ian

0 thoughts on “history demands good shoes

  1. Wow!

    I usually stay away from this blog but everyone once in a while I check back in and enjoy what I read. Today is that day. Chuck, please keep writing.

    Reply
  2. jason savage

    tremendous, Chuck. just awesome. and thank goodness your friends and their loved ones and all of the paasengers are okay.

    Reply
  3. Portland, too

    Don’t mean to be rude, but I think the painter might be Winslow Homer; you might want to check. Sorry.
    [fixed. a little chagrined. -ed.]

    Reply
  4. Debzita

    Wow, thanks for this post, Ian and Chuck! Another example (and for a change, a happy one) of how you never reeeaaaally know what’s going to happen. Coulda been a horrible tragedy that just… wasn’t.
    And oh yeah, painter is Winslow Homer. It’s one of my favorite paintings; I always pay a visit to it when I’m at the Met.

    Reply
  5. Killian

    Amazing post–thanks! My brother is a pilot, and I sent it on to him. Loved the great line about “running to help”—wonderful inspiration. THANK YOU.

    Reply
  6. oliver

    You know it was Canada Geese that downed that plane. I can’t believe we don’t have a cruise missile on the way to Ottawa or Toronto by now.

    Reply
  7. Schultz

    I love today’s post- nice work Chuck (and Ian).
    I smiled last night and said “finally, something good happens……..”
    Way to go Sully! Way to go New York!!

    Reply
  8. ChrisM

    Great post. Truly a “boy, we really needed that” sort of event.
    I’ve ridden in the cockpit on commercial aircraft in a variety of situations. Since then, when departing an aircraft I always look flight crew in the eye and give them a bright “thank you.” I recommend you do the same.

    Reply
  9. Salem

    I am not a cynic, but I can’t escape the irony of our new label for competence, discipline, and leadership. “Miracle on the Hudson”
    I think the word Miracle is an insult to the Captain, crew, passengers and especially the rescue workers.
    Competence, Discipline, Leadership.
    “How much is that worth?”
    Priceless!
    (just watched a report on, Mohammed El Gharani a 14 year old child that Pakistan sold to the CIA in 2001, who remains in Guantanamo today…don’t get me started.)

    Reply
  10. hotsauce

    Sorry for the threadjack, but Salem, you may feel a little better to learn that El Gharani was ordered released yesterday.

    Reply
  11. Annie H.

    I meant to comment much earlier on this incredibly moving and well-written post (which I linked to on Facebook for all my friends to read). Chuck, thank you.

    Reply

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