Danville residents are invited to turn out this weekend to celebrate the return of Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger III, dubbed "The Hero of the Hudson" following his miraculous landing of US Airways flight 1549.
Mayor Newell Arnerich said the Sullenberger family will be returning to Danville and the town is preparing to honor the heroic pilot. The event will take place at 1 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 24, on the Town Green, 400 Front St., in front of the library.
"Capt. Sully did something extraordinary and unprecedented on Jan. 15," said Arnerich. "I can think of at least 155 reasons why our town should join together to celebrate our neighbor and friend, and his family."
"We're expecting several thousand people to be there," Arnerich added.
Town officials are working out the logistics of making room for the expected 200 members of the media to cover the event and thousands of people. Heads of several town departments, including police, fire, streets and maintenance will be scrambling to prepare for the influx of such large numbers. Initial plans may lead to several streets being closed during the event.
Sullenberger, 57, of Danville, was the pilot of Flight 1549, bound from LaGuardia Airport to Charlotte, N.C., on Jan. 15. The plane lost its engines after striking several geese. Displaying remarkable reflexes and presence of mind, Sullenberger guided the de-powered airplane to a safe landing in the Hudson River.
Cockpit recordings showed that Sullenberger radioed in about a "double strike" on the airplane, meaning that both engines were affected by the collision with the birds and the plane lost engine power.
New York City emergency crews leapt into action and brought rescue boats to the downed craft. While some passengers fell into the icy waters, most huddled safely on the wings of the plane until help arrived. Within minutes, everyone had been safely evacuated from the plane and were being treated by emergency personnel.
Injuries were few and none was life threatening. All 155 passengers and crew of the Airbus survived the crash, a fact New York Gov. David Paterson referred to as "The Miracle on the Hudson."
Sullenberger was lauded by passengers and emergency officials alike as a hero, calm and cool during the terrifying event and showing a strong sense of duty in remaining aboard the aircraft until he was certain everyone was off.
None of this came as a surprise to Sullenberger's friends and neighbors. Jane Garcia, a friend of the family, described Sullenberger as "Extremely intelligent. Very conscientious. His whole family is like that."
Garcia's husband John expressed gratitude for the work Sullenberger did in landing the plane and said that it gave him an entirely new perspective on the job of an airline pilot. "I fly all the time and I never really had a good appreciation for what pilots do," he said, "but now I'm going to have a whole lot more respect for the job pilots do."
Neighbor Frank Salzmann said he believed that if anyone could land a plane that way it would be Sullenberger. "That's Sully. He's just the kind of person you'd think could pull something like that off." He added, "When you think of what the captain of an airplane should be like, you'd think of Sully."
Officials from the US Airlines Pilot Association, the union representing US Airways Pilots, requested that the Sullenberger family not speak to the media until an investigation was completed, but that did not stop friends and neighbors from stepping up to sing their praises.
Friends from as far away as Monterey came to help keep the family insulated from the dozens of reporters camped out in the area. Some, like Jim Walberg, took a moment to offer their thoughts on Sullenberger.
"He was the right guy at the right place at the right moment," Walberg stated. "He's just an amazing, humble man."
Walberg reiterated what so many others had already said: Sullenberger is a man of extraordinary control and calm, and that he did a great job in landing that plane. Walberg did say his friend would probably take exception to the "hero" label being applied so liberally.
"It's not a name he will take to very easily," Walberg explained. "He was just doing his job."
The incident has received international attention, and Sullenberger received phone calls from both President Bush and President Obama. Sullenberger, his wife Lorrie and his daughters Katie and Kelly were invited to attend Obama's Inauguration in Washington, D.C., and they agreed. The family was reunited in Washington, four days after the plane crash.
Mayor Arnerich, in Washington for the Inauguration and the U.S. Conference of Mayors, expressed his gratitude for Sullenberger's actions as well as his joy at the positive outcome of what could have been a deadly situation. "We are looking forward to seeing Sully come home," he said.
The mayor is encouraging the public to attend the celebration, where the Sullenbergers are not expected to make extensive statements nor take questions from the press. The U.S. Airline Pilots Association has asked the Sullenbergers to not grant interviews until the investigation is completed.
"They are grateful for and humbled by the expressions of support from their neighbors and friends," said family spokeswoman Libby Smiley, "and they wish to share this special moment with the people of Danville."
Planning for the event remains fluid, said town officials. They expect 200 members of the media and thousands of residents. Gov. Schwarzenegger and other dignitaries have been invited but have not confirmed whether they'll attend.