Sullenberger told his story in the book
Highest Duty (HarperCollins, 2010; no longer
available at Costco), which covers everything
from his lifelong love of flying to life after
Flight 1549, and many character-shaping
incidents in between. The book served as the
basis for the movie Sully, starring Tom Hanks
and directed by Clint Eastwood, which was
released in September 2016 and is coming out
on DVD on December 20.
Sullenberger retired as a commercial
pilot in 2010 and has since had a career as a
public speaker while continuing his work as
an aviation safety advocate. The Costco
Connection recently caught up with the
Costco member near his Danville, California,
home to discuss seeing himself portrayed on
the big screen, his passion for aviation safety,
his love of flying and more.
The Costco Connection: You were initially uncomfortable with the term “hero.” I’ve
read that you have finally accepted that title, if
not willingly wearing that mantle.
Chesley Sullenberger: Very early on I
had to make an intellectual compromise with
myself to graciously accept people’s gifts of
their gratitude and their putting that label on
it. What I thought, and what my wife, Lorrie,
thought, was that this situation was thrust
upon us. We didn’t choose to rush into a
burning building and rescue someone
to put ourselves at risk. But I know that
people appreciate heroic acts, and I
think that there were a lot of people
that day who rose to that level—
passengers, crew, rescuers, first responders—and I think it’s just natural to
I think the other reason that I
initially resisted that label is I think
that so many times in our culture
that we overuse that word. And by overusing
it, I think, we diminish it. And we shouldn’t
cheapen it, because when it’s used appropriately it’s a word that describes the best of what
it means to be human.
CC: How have you come
to terms with fame?
CS: Initially, with some
difficulty. It wasn’t my
natural temperament, but
it’s amazing what you can
learn to do. So I developed the skills to be able
to be an effective public
speaker, something I
really hadn’t done much
of before. I will say that I
approached this new profession of speaking with the same discipline
and diligence I did my flying career. I just
worked very hard at it, and I solicited, listened
to and acted on brutally honest feedback.
CC: Did January 15, 2009, change the way
you feel about fate or reinforce how you feel
CS: The way this event happened, in such a
public way and during the ’08–’09 financial
meltdown, when it seemed as if everything
was going wrong and no one could do anything right … I think some people had begun
to doubt human nature, wondering if it was
mostly about self-interest and greed.
When this group of people who didn’t
even know each other rose to the occasion
and made it their mission in life to see that
every life was saved, I think it was an event
that gave people hope. And that’s how I think
about it. That’s one of the things I really hope
that the film would convey, and I think it
does: the importance of our common human-
ity. And I think that’s what was on display that
day, during that event.
It’s a reminder that when we work
together there’s little we cannot accomplish.
And that we have an obligation not only to
our families but to each
other in our society to
demonstrate civic duty, to
have civic virtues that
quite frankly make civilization possible. And so,
that’s my worldview. And
I think we need more of
that, not less.
CC: How surreal was it to
see yourself portrayed by
CS: We’ve used the word
surreal a lot, and we used it early on to
describe the flight itself and the additional
worldwide acclaim … the aftermath. Having
a film directed by Clint Eastwood, who is trying to tell [the story of your life], is surreal.
And then watching the film for the first time
was almost an out-of-body experience. I
think they got a lot of it right. They worked
very hard to get it right.
CC: I read that you
marked up a script with
notes and comments.
CS: It was important to
me. I mean, we’re talking about my life, my
family’s life, and for
many people … this is
Sullenberger and Sully actor Tom Hanks.
CONTINUED ON PAGE 36
THE COSTCO CONNECTION
The movie Sully (Item 1114713) is
available on 12/20 on BD/DVD/Digital HD.