Hero Pilot Says Life Prepared Him for Crash Landing

Hero Pilot Says Life Prepared Him for Crash Landing
Chesley Sullenberger and downed US Airways Flight 1549, in New York's Hudson River
Janis Krums/AP; inset: REUTERS/Landov

02/08/2009 AT 07:00 PM EST

America's favorite pilot Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger says his whole life was training for the day he safely landed US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River.

"It was the worst sickening pit of your stomach, falling through the floor feeling I've ever felt in my life," Sullenberger told Katie Couric on CBS' 60 Minutes Sunday night. "I knew immediately it was very bad."

Despite his initial anxieties and an "I can't believe this is happening" moment, Sullenberger regained control and successfully guided the doomed jetliner to splash down in New York City, saving the lives of all 155 people on board. The plane lost power due to a collision with a flock of birds.

After telling passengers to "brace for impact," he attempted to accomplish what only a few commercial airline pilots have ever done to successfully: land a plane in freezing water with no fatalities. As fate would have it, Sullenberger was the perfect man for the job.

"My entire life up to that moment had been a preparation to handle that particular moment," said the 58-year-old former Air Force pilot who has spent nearly 30 years flying commercial planes.

He recalls saying to first officer Jeff Skiles "Well, that wasn't as bad as I thought."

Returning to New York on Saturday for the first time since the "Miracle on the Hudson," Sullenberger and his family received a thunderous standing ovation from the audience while attending a Broadway performance of South Pacific.

The cheers and applause will only grow louder for the hero pilot. New York City's mayor Michael Bloomberg will present Sullenberger and the crew of Flight 1549 with honorary keys to the city on Monday for their heroic and masterful jobs.

From Our Partners