Channeling Sully Sullenberger


‘My lifesaving skills are for the birds’

Remember Sully Sullenberger? He is the pilot I always want piloting whatever plane I happen to be on. (I always check for a sort of older guy with a mustache when I get on an aircraft). Because Sully is the pilot who safely landed that plane smack-dab in the middle of the Hudson River and didn’t lose a single soul.

In case you don’t happen to live in New York where this happened right under our noses in the middle of a work day (meaning we will never ever forget about it), that was the plane that had an unfortunate encounter with a flock of birds shortly after takeoff from LaGuardia. The Control Tower Guys told him to head for this little airport in New Jersey called Teterboro. But Sully knew in his Experienced-Pilot’s Heart that if he did, scores of New Jerseyites on the ground would be toast as well as everyone on his plane, so he ‘landed’ on the Hudson instead. Fasten your seat belts and check this out. Wow.

 US Airways Flight 1549 after Sully landed smack-dab in the middle of the Hudson. Birds were blamed

US Airways Flight 1549 after Sully landed it smack-dab in the middle of the Hudson. Birds were blamed

Just look at those people standing on the wings of that not-sinking, not-disintegrating plane! Bless that Sully. He even walked up and down the darned aisles–twice–to make sure everybody got off before he ‘deplaned’. Sigh. Put him at the controls of any plane I happen to be economy-classed onto, thank you very much. I don’t care how old he is. I am in Pilot Love. Ooops. He’s retired and giving speaking tours. Darn.

Well, time to turn to my tale for today. It also involves a crash landing onto a body of water. And birds. And a nod to a recent post called ‘The Motorcycle Diaries’.

See, out on Long Island, where our house is, we happen to have a pool. And a tree right by the pool that, for that spring anyway, happened to have a robin’s nest in it.

The Dude and I rather enjoyed the robins and their nest, sometimes referring to it fondly. ‘Oh, those little blue eggs sure are pretty’, and ‘I wonder when the little birds will hatch’, and, finally, ‘Look, the Parent Robins are teaching the babies to fly! How sweet!

Future frequent fliers

Future frequent fliers

Anyway. One afternoon, while I was performing some household chore (stripping beds? de-mildewing the shower?) I heard a major ruckus outside. It sounded like two hysterical parents shrieking at an endangered child.

A glance out the window confirmed that it was in fact two hysterical parents shrieking at an endangered child. The Adult Robins were screeching their beaks off while bouncing along the edge of the pool. I looked closer and saw that, yup, one of their babies had plopped, US-Air-style, in the middle of the Hudson River (er, our lap lane).

The poor little guy had his wings spread wide and was floating–for the moment, anyway. I dropped my Softscrub, raced downstairs, grabbed the pool net thingie and scooped the rapidly-sinking birdie out of the water and deposited him gently onto the grass. Where he looked rather stunned, but reasonably okay. (Whew!)

I picked him up and was heading for the nest to put him back when, speaking of ‘heads’, BAM! Something that felt like a 5-pound bag of sugar hit me smack-dab in the back of mine, causing me to drop the baby. It was Father Robin, and he was definitely not grateful for my Sully-like act of heroism on behalf of his child.

Well. I really wanted to get that baby out of the grass and back into his nest before the feral cats got wind of him. But I also didn’t want another smack-upside-the-head from Mr. Robin. So what did I do? I donned my motorcycle helmet–the one I use when tooling around on my Mother’s-Day-Gift Vespa—marched myself right back out there and put that baby where he belonged. Ta-da!

Me, demonstrating my bird-saving (head)gear

Me, demonstrating my bird-saving (head)gear

All’s well that ends well, baby-bird-wise. The crash-lander dried out nicely and, ultimately, flew off into the sunset. But, unlike Sully, I didn’t get a medal or a book tour. Nor did I get to appear at the Robin equivalent of the Super Bowl or have a cocktail named in my honor. (Yes, you can order a ‘Sully’, which consists of two shots of Grey Goose vodka and a splash of water.) But I like to think that somewhere out there is a very grateful, very wise, adult robin who is teaching his own young to fly. And also to swim.

New York City. May 2015

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19 thoughts on “Channeling Sully Sullenberger

  1. Yes, I remember that landing in the Hudson and that Sullenberger is and always will be a hero but your rescue also rings true of the human soul, Alice. We seem to instinctually rescue the distressed and that is the best part of us, I think. And we sure would be grateful if someone rescued our babies if they were in danger. Good thinking with the helmet though and lucky it wasn’t an owl or you would be missing a section of scalp.

    • Yes! I was so glad I happened to look out the window at just that moment. And yes, I’d like to think that Momma Robin would scoop The Child out of danger too (!) Double ‘yes’ as to being glad Momma Robin wasn’t Momma Owl! xoxo

    • Hi Ann! Thank you for your comment. Yes, I too was brought up to believe that if you touched a baby bird the parent birds would reject him (or her). I’m thinking you could be right about the ‘apocryphality’ of this, or perhaps the scent of chlorine (tho minimal, since we don’t over-chlorinate) or even the fact that the bird was wet meant that my scent didn’t ‘stick’ to the little critter.

    • Hah! So true! I just hope he’s the only father to hit me in the head. I looked up ‘robin’s weight’ and found out they only weigh 3 ounces, fully grown. But I’m here to tell you that it felt like about 5 pounds! Thank you, as always, for your pithy, timely, comment.

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