Job. Not hero.

_45381308_006729491-1So the story is that of the Airbus crashing into the Hudson river. Captain C.B. Sully Sullenberger and the crew did a great job in ditching the plane in to the Hudson river, after it struck a flock of birds. All 150 people onboard survived, with about 80 of them needing medical attention for minor injuries. So yeah – it’s a remarkable story, and no doubt, it’s a freak accident which fortunately ended OK, thanks to the skill and training of the pilot and the crew of the plane, not to mention the good design of planes so that when they land in water, they should float. All round pats on the back, lads, well done (or in US speaky “great job”), everyone get down the pub for a booze up.

But I have some problems:

1) For starters – I simply hate (and I very rarely use the word hate) – but I hate the fact that this is being reported as “a flock of birds hit the plane” – that’s right, they’re blaming this on the birds. The correct way to report this is “the plane hit a flock of birds”. Which of the two objects – the flock of birds, or the aeroplane – has a natural right to be flying in the air? Hmm. Answer is clear to me, but in case it’s not, it’s the birds. So although arguably the birds were the cause of the accident, it is only because the plane hit them, and not the other way around. A minor point, perhaps, but important nonetheless.

2) Captain C.B. Sully Sullenberger is being hailed as a hero. He’s not a hero. The man did his job. The plane did what it was designed to do. I’m not questioning that he’s a very skillful man, and that his years of training and dedication to his trade have paid off in the lives of 150 people, but let’s get some perspective. He did his job, he did it well, but he is not a hero. Within a couple of days of this happening, 118,000 people have joined a Facebook group dedicated to him, with a lot of those saying he deserves the highest US civilian honour available, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. If that medal, the highest possible honour that can be given to a civilian, is given to a man who simply did his job, then I’d wager there’s little value in that medal. A hero need only be someone who acts courageously, but really in order to be a hero, you have to acta courageously beyond your usual zone of comfort. Police officers and fire officer who do their daily job in extreme conditions aren’t heroes. They just do their job. This is no different. Show me a person who, for example, stops a mugging, saves a person from being hit by a bus, or even just makes some kind of sacrifice without regard for their own, and I’ll call them a hero.

3) The event is being described as a miracle. No. It’s not. Let’s consider the most common definition of a miracle:

“an effect or extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses all known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause.”

OK, so some definitions of a miracle might be similar to:

“a wonder; marvel, a wonderful or surpassing example of some quality”

So in the latter context, you might describe the situation as a kind of miracle. But in my book it doesn’t exactly speak volumes or heap praise on either the designers of the aircraft or the training processes that pilots go through. By saying it’s a wonder that no-one died, it’s a miracle, you may as well as say it was a fluke, that you’re surprised people didn’t die, in fact, I’d even go so far as to say it’s an insult to the Captain. It suggests that we’d normally expect people to die. Why should we expect that?

Bah. But the most important point.

4) It seems everyone has very quickly forgotten the story of the Captain who successfully crash landed a Boeing 777 at Heathrow in January 2008, barely a year ago. In a similar event, Captain Peter Burkill successfully crash landed a plane at Heathrow after an engine was affected by ice in the fuel. Everyone survived. But what many people seem to have forgotten is how he was then the subject of a total character assassination, vilified for things he had done in his earlier life. Now, rumour has it that this resulted in the complete breakdown of his marriage, the loss of his house and kids, and he is now so traumatised by the whole event that he hasn’t flown since. Unfortunately, I can’t substantiate that and I can’t remember where I heard or read it.

But if it’s true, for “Sully’s” sake, I hope he doesn’t get the hero treatment.



  1. Hi Maria! Many thanks for your comment! I’m really pleased that things haven’t been quite as dire as the rumours I had heard and that you and your husband are getting on with things.

    His treatment by our tabloids was shocking…


  2. Hi Matt
    I stumbled across this site by accident but I am glad that I did. You have given me hope that Pete hasn’t been forgotten.

    I am Pete’s wife and the last year has been pretty traumatic but we have got through it and then a year to the day when Pete’s crash happened the Hudson River crash happened. It brought a lot of things back to the forefront of our minds at how Pete was treated and how Capt Sully is now being treated.

    To sum up the last year for you we have felt that we did not get the support from his employer that we should have warranted. This did cause stress between both Pete and myself as a couple and then added raised voices with the kids. I’m sure the year would have been tough anyway as our boys were 2.5, 15mths and 11 weeks at the time of the crash but the crash and the stress made it a lot worse.

    There were some negative articles that came out and we felt that there was no defence given to Pete from higher people who could have defended him. Pete was not paid his normal salary whilst he was off work so we were hit hard financially. We are starting to sort ourselves out financially now and it is unlikely that we will loose our home (but wherever you got your info losing the house was close).

    Although our marriage had a fair few rows in the past year and some major low points we are still together, we have no intention of parting and I’d like to think that to come through all of this can only have made us stronger.

    Pete was back at work in June and is operating a normal rota now. He always wanted to be a pilot and enjoys the flying side of his job. There are however some cabin crew who have believed various negative articles about him and even now when they fly with him he finds himself having to defend himself. This is disappointing and hard on him.

    We are silly I suppose in the fact that when he is away I do tend to browse through the internet and fall upon articles that are not pleasant. BUT today I am glad I did. Thank you for your words, you have given me the hope that there are people out there who remember and actually remember what happened. I’ll be showing this page to Pete when he is home and I am sure he will feel the same.

    You probably never expected to get a reply from a Burkill but I hope you can take my appreciation.

    The AAIB is nearly complete and we have been told bits from it (obviously I can’t tell you) but the sad thing about it is that Pete’s actions are to be see in it that they were the right thing to do at the time, yet, I bet it hardly hits the media.

    Pete was simply a pilot doing what he loves to do. He has been embarrased at references to being a hero as he was simply doing his job. He is not a hero but a fantastic pilot. He never wanted to be a celebrity plastered across the papers but the plastering across the papers was a knock-on effect of the crash. It is just a shame that an innocent man then got trashed so publically.

    It has been hurtful and I just hope people will pay attention when the final report is released as then those that have been cruel can see how wrong they were.

    On a final note though we were not so upset about the NOTW article as it at least showed a lot of Joe Public that not all BA Captains are stuck up their own arse!!! I believe there were a lot of young lads enquirying how to become a pilot after that article and who can blame them!!!

    Anyway once again although you never meant to defend us personally, your blog has shown that there are people out there who are sympathetic to our feelings. We can’t say anything as it would simply look like jealousy.


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