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Sully's memoir: a good in-flight read?

October 27, 2009 |  1:23 pm

Flight1459
The memoir from everyone's favorite airline pilot, Capt. Chelsey "Sully" Sullenberger, was released earlier this month. In "Highest Duty," Sullenberger, working with co-author Jeffery Zaslow, recounts his personal history, seeded with bits of details about January 15, 2009 -- the day he successfully landed US Airways Flight 1459 in the Hudson River.

Sullenberger seems like a serious ("grounded" just isn't the right word) man. It's charming to read about his lifelong fascination with flight, and that he was more comfortable in a cockpit than with his high school classmates. When he finally got around to asking a girl for a date, what did he do? Take her flying, of course.

That wasn't the woman who would become his wife, although he writes about their romance, their daughters, and the challenges they've faced. He also details his pre-family life, training at the Air Force Academy, getting a master's in "industrial psychology (human factors)," becoming a fighter pilot in the late '70s, and even sharing the salary earned in his first commercial airline job in 1980 -- just $200 per week.

But other things fed into his skill as a pilot. He is fascinated with flying history, and shares his knowledge of plane crashes and water landings. He tells of friends he lost to accidents, his own closest call, and explains what it's like to be a volunteer crash site investigator.

So... do you really want to be reading this while flying on a plane?

The bird strike, engine loss and remarkable landing of that Airbus 320 jetliner take up several chapters of the book. They include Sully's perspective, of course, and mix in the stories of some of the passengers -- although he couldn't have known those things then, all their lives were in his (and his co-pilot's) hands. In places, it'll take your breath away.

It even includes transcripts of the cockpit recorder:

Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System synthetic voice:
     "Terrain terrain. Pull up. Pull up. Pull up. Pull up. Pull up. Pull up..."
Sullenberger: We're gonna brace!

Sullenberger writes it was "awful and beautiful at the same time." Indeed -- could you read that at 30,000 feet?

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Steven Day / Associated Press

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