A Lesson From the “Miracle on the Hudson”

When life suddenly throws us a big challenge, what do we do? How can we determine what is the best option available? Taking a look at a famous “almost disaster” can help.

A Lesson From the “Miracle on the Hudson”
Jan. 15, 2009, seemed like a normal winter day. US Airways Flight 1549 lifted off from New York City’s LaGuardia Airport at 3:25 p.m. The captain, Chesley Sullenberger, was well-seasoned with 42 years of experience as a commercial pilot. Jeff Skiles, the first officer, was also a skilled and experienced pilot.

The aircraft was carrying 150 passengers and had a flight crew of five. It was a 10-year-old plane that had logged 16,299 flights and had been airborne for 25,241 hours. Records showed all maintenance had been done on time, and it was in proper flying condition.

At 3:27, when the aircraft had reached an altitude of 2,900 feet and was still climbing at 230 miles per hour, a flock of Canada geese suddenly appeared. There was no chance for the pilots to avoid them.

Each goose weighed about 18 pounds, and because of their size and number, the birds sucked in severely damaged both engines. The 150,000-pound aircraft, which required 40,000 pounds of engine thrust, instantly lost all power.

Lacking the airspeed and altitude that would have given them maneuverability and time, the pilots had to quickly decide what to do. Viable options were almost nonexistent. They were still over New York City and had no open fields, only the crowded city, in sight.

The pilots quickly realized that it would be impossible to get to an airport and land safely. They were going down way too fast. It left them only one option, and it wasn’t a good one—land the plane on the Hudson River.

Three minutes and 29 seconds after the birds hit, the plane was floating on top of the cold waters of the Hudson.

That happened 10 years ago today.

Behind the “Miracle on the Hudson”

This event was nicknamed the “Miracle on the Hudson.” That description fit and has stuck because Captain Sullenberger managed to safely land the aircraft in the river and, with the help of his flight crew, safely evacuate all 155 persons on board.

Not a single life was lost!

Chesley Sullenberger

Captain Chesley Sullenberger 

This dramatic story gives Christians something to consider. How do we react when we are faced with sudden and traumatic circumstances that require us to make a quick decision? How do we know if we are making the right decision?When the flight recorders, or black boxes, as they’re sometimes called, were later reviewed, the data revealed that the plane had touched down at exactly the proper angle—almost absolutely level. If one wing had hit before the other, the plane would have cartwheeled. If the aircraft had been angled too far up or down, the results could have been disastrous. Remember—the pilots had no help from the engines, so they had only one shot at getting it right.

Captain Sullenberger’s background and training made all the difference. He grew up in Texas and fell in love with flying from his youth. As soon as he could, he started flying lessons and practiced as often as possible to gain experience. He took his formal training seriously, carefully learning the flight characteristics of the various aircraft he had the opportunity to pilot.

Flying wasn’t just something he had memorized from a book. He had studied and practiced the skills of piloting until it became second nature. When the birds hit, there was no time to pull out a copy of Advanced Avionics Handbook for how to calculate an angle of approach or how to guide an aircraft not designed to land on water, safely onto a river. He had to rely on his experience and what was already in his head.

When life throws us a “bird strike”

How often does life seem to throw us an unexpected “bird strike” out of nowhere? When that happens, we are suddenly faced with making a decision we may not have contemplated before. Here are some examples:

  • Your supervisor unexpectedly pressures you to tell a lie to cover up something he or she did wrong.
  • An “opportunity” appears that would benefit you financially, but requires you to steal, cheat or bend the rules “just a little.”
  • You are at a social gathering and unexpectedly drugs are brought out, and you are being pushed to try them.
  • A boyfriend or girlfriend begins to pressure you for a level of physical intimacy beyond where you know it should be.

Just as Captain Sullenberger was well-studied in the principles of flight, we need to have the principles of God’s Word embedded in our minds, so we can call on it immediately when we need to make a decision.What do you do at these times? You don’t have time to spend a day or two praying, fasting and meditating on the issue to get strength and wisdom from God. You don’t have time to call a mentor for advice. You’re right in the middle of the situation, and you have to react immediately. Just like with Flight 1549, if you have the wrong “angle of approach,” the impact could be disastrous for you.

First, we should remember we always have instant access to our Father through prayer, and hopefully we would all have the presence of mind to send up an urgent, instant silent prayer for discernment, wisdom and deliverance! God does hear the distressed cries for help from His people (Psalms 18:6; 34:15).

But our Creator has also given us a resource rich with instruction and examples of how to live and react under nearly every situation we may face in life. That resource is older, more substantial and has been tested far more than any aviation text. It is the Bible, the living Word of God. Just as Captain Sullenberger was well-studied in the principles of flight, we need to have the principles of God’s Word embedded in our minds, so we can call on it immediately when we need to make a decision.

Do something illegal or unethical on the job? No! Even with the pressure of possible loss of a job, the Scriptures demand integrity and honesty. Our decision should be quick and decisive.

Get involved with something improper? No matter how great the “rewards” might seem to be, we must turn away. There is an old saying that “every man has his price.” That saying should not apply to a true Christian. A man or woman of righteous character is well able to say “No!”

Pressure to get involved in drugs, alcohol or improper sexual activity? Once again, we should have the boundary between right and wrong internalized and have the character to immediately make the right decision.

Make the right decision

On Jan. 15, 2009, the crew of US Airways Flight 1549 faced a crisis they’d never faced before. They had less than 3½ minutes to make the hard decisions necessary to save as many lives as possible. In that short period of time, they called on all their years of training and experience and made the right decision—saving over a hundred lives.

Throughout our lives, we will each be faced with sudden and difficult decisions. We also may only have a moment to analyze the situation and make a decision on how to react. Making the wrong decision could be disastrous, perhaps even spiritually fatal.

Prepare now to make the right decision by learning the lesson of the “Miracle of the Hudson.”

About the Author

Tom Clark

Tom Clark

Tom Clark married his lovely wife, Mary, in 1985. They have three grown children and four grandchildren. Tom was ordained a minister in 1989 and has served congregations in Georgia, Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, Kansas, Minnesota and North Dakota. He currently pastors the Bentonville, Van Buren and Mena, Arkansas, congregations of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association.

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