The annual New Year’s Day Rose Parade is a peculiar combination of celebration, tradition, and kitsch, to be sure. Several folks over the years suggested that a great way to view the parade is to wait at home in Santa Monica until it starts at 8 am, then drive to the far end of the parade route where the lead marchers don’t arrive until around 10 am. So last New Year’s, a perfect sunshine day by any standard, we set out on a circuitous driving course that brought us in on the north side of Pasadena on the 210 Freeway. We parked on a residential street, rode bikes less than a mile, and arrived before the start of the parade. We positioned ourselves on Sierra Madre just before the 210 overpass and got the added bonus of watching the taller floats mechanically reconfigure themselves to go under the bridge. What a hoot! Large cartoon characters in chrysanthemum hydraulically decapitating themselves to go under a freeway – only in Southern California! Another added bonus is that after a good night’s sleep in your own bed, you can be surrounded by folks on the sidewalk who were up all night and get surly by the time the parade arrives, and downright combative with one another by the parade’s end.
This coming New Year’s parade already has an interesting turn, the selection of pilot Chesley Burnett “Sully” Sullenburger III as the Grand Marshal. Sullenburger you may recall, was captain of US Air flight 1549 which took off from La Guardia on January 15, hit a flock of Canadian geese, lost power in both engines and ditched into the Hudson River. All 155 aboard the craft were safely evacuated.
Even prior to the Grand Marshal honor, there has been a cavalcade of kudos for Sullenburger who reportedly is at times at least somewhat miffed by all the attention. I am somewhat miffed as well and wonder if the media hasn’t dropped the ball on the story. For starters, I seem to be the only one in America who recalls the successful water landing of another large multi-engine airliner. On May 27, 1968, a new JAL DC-8 only two months in service landed in San Francisco Bay two miles short of the runway. The plane sank into nine feet of water. All were safely evacuated. Unlike Sullenburger’s Airbus 320 which was substantially damaged including the loss of an engine to the bottom of the Hudson River, the DC-8 was plucked with little damage from the water with a crane, refurbished at the United Airlines facility at SFO Airport and put back into service and reportedly was still flying three decades later.
So-called “dead stick” landings such as Sullenburger’s powerless glide into the Hudson also have precedent. On July 23, 1983, Air Canada Flight 143, a Boeing 767-200, ran completely out of fuel while cruising at 41,000 feet approximately midway in its flight between Montreal and Edmonton. What followed is one of the great “cool” dramas of commercial aviation. The flight crew calmly consulted with air traffic controllers who alertly located and directed the gliding airliner to an abandoned airstrip at the Gimli Industrial Park, a former Canadian Air Force base in Manitoba. All 69 aboard the craft survived. (Prior to the flight, it seems there was some confusion over whether the plane was fueled in U.S. gallons, or Imperial gallons, an error since corrected systematically needless to say.)
Neither of the preceding incidents detracts from Sullenburger’s achievement over the Hudson, and for that matter the cool bravery of his co-pilot Jeff Skiles and the cabin crew, Doreen Walsh, Shelia Dail, and Donna Dent. The flight attendants in particular were quick to begin evacuation procedures and have been recognized alongside Sullenburger at some events. They should be in the Rose Parade as well.
As regular air traveler, I would like to think that Sullenburger’s cool in a crisis is the rule among anyone licensed to fly large multi-engine commercial airliners, not the exception. Others have shown similar skills under fire.