Yesterday I watched on live TV as the drama of US Airways Flight 1549 unfolded on the screen before me. MSNBC had come in to the story early, just at the point where an airplane had been spotted floating in the Hudson River, where it was normally not supposed to be. People were standing on the wings of the aircraft, where they were normally not supposed to be. And various boats were pulling up close, beginning to rescue people from the plane.
This scene was impossible to ignore, so I stayed glued to the television until it was clear that everything was under control. And here is what happened, as I now understand it . . .
A US Airways commercial airliner, with more than 150 people on board, had just taken off from New York's LaGuardia Airport, when it unexpectedly encountered a flock of large-sized birds, reported to be Canada Geese. Some of the birds crashed into the engines, causing both engines to fail suddenly.
So then here was a large airplane, full of passengers and loaded with fuel, flying with no power, losing altitude over New York City, with thousands of buildings and millions of people below. It looks like a catastrophe beginning to happen. What can anybody do to stop it?
Well, as it happened, the Captain of that plane was Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger, III, perhaps the best-suited person in the world to be in command in this particular situation. As a veteran pilot, with an expert knowledge of Flight Safety Procedures and a strong sense of duty, Sullenberger also possessed the quick-thinking mind and calm, unflappable temperament needed to pull him through this huge crisis. With him was a well-trained, well-experienced flight crew, flying in a well-designed and well-maintained aircraft. Beneath him on the river was a willing fleet of boats nearby, ready and able to spring into action if needed.
Everything then came together perfectly. Sullenberger quickly evaluated the situation and considered his options. The available airports were too far away: he couldn't reach them in time. There was no way he could try to land the plane on a highway: too crowded. There was no huge vacant field in sight, suitable for an emergency landing. Obviously he didn't want to crash into the buildings below. But the Hudson River looked like a possible place to make a successful landing, if he did it just right. And there would be many boats nearby, to help with the rescue.
And he did it just right. He skillfully glided his aircraft into the proper position over the river. Then he gently descended to the river, allowing his forward speed to diminish at just the right rate to achieve touchdown at the lowest possible speed without losing lift and falling like a brick. Then he lowered the aircraft onto the river, with the tail section touching first, so as not to flip the plane over on its nose and rip open the fuselage.
The airplane hit the river at about 140 MPH, bounced twice, then came to a stop, floating and with fuselage intact. No smash-up; no explosion; no fire; nobody killed. So far, so good.
Now it was time for the flight crew and the passengers to do their part, by getting everybody out of the plane before it sank into the frigid water. Somehow, they successfully accomplished this task, with no chaos, no panic, no needless injuries.
And then the rescue boats started to arrive, pulling the grateful passengers on board and trying to warm them up from the frigid water and twenty-degree air. Official Coast Guard and Police boats mingled with private volunteer boats, all joining together in a heroic, successful rescue operation.
Final score: More than 150 people saved from death, with only one person seriously injured but expected to recover. Thousands of other people saved from the injury and death which could have easily happened if the plane had crashed into the city.
The Metaphor Of Flight 1549 And The USA In 2009
Some of us, who believe in "Signs And Wonders" in the Biblical sense, feel that it is no accident that such a vivid major event as Flight 1549 should occur only a few days before the momentous passing of Presidential power to Barack Obama on January 20th. We believe that the story of Flight 1549 can be seen as a metaphor -- a representation of -- The United States Of America in 2009.
In this metaphor, the present-day economic and political crisis in the USA is represented by the crises faced by Flight 1549, losing altitude over New York City. The United States itself is represented by the actual airplane involved, which almost perished but was saved from destruction and is now in need of repairs. The People of the United States are represented by the passengers aboard Flight 1549, who were saved by their outstanding Captain. President-elect Barack Obama is represented by Captain "Sully" Sullenberger, who skillfully commanded Flight 1549 to a safe emergency landing. The other members of the Obama Administration are represented by the other members of the Flight Crew. The Senate and The House of Representatives are represented by the official Coast Guard and Police rescue boats and their crews. And the millions of individual strong supporters of Barack Obama -- people who are willing to work for him and his goals -- are represented by the private boats and their crews.
And the metaphorical prediction for the United States goes like this: