DANVILLE — The pilot who safely guided a failing US Airways flight into New York's Hudson River is a Danville man who speaks internationally on safety issues and has collaborated with UC Berkeley air-safety researchers.
Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger was the right person to help passengers survive the crisis, said Karlene Roberts, a friend and UC Berkeley professor who co-directs the school's Center for Catastrophic Risk Management, which researches ways to avoid airline tragedies.
"I can imagine him being sufficiently in charge to get those people out," she said. "He's got that kind of personality, which is to his credit."
"It was the right guy at the right time at the right moment," said John Walberg, a neighbor and family friend of the Sullenbergers. Like others, he noted Sullenberger's cool, calm and collected style.
News of the crash and the coolheaded landing plan of the captain prompted quick praise from everyone from President Bush to fellow pilots.
"What he did under those circumstances was nothing short of magnificent," said Pick Freeman, a retired US Airways pilot. "There's so many things that could have gone wrong today. A wing tip could have caught in the water and caused it to cartwheel."
"His judgment as to where he put the aircraft was phenomenal," said one US Airways Airbus flight trainer, who asked that his name not be printed because the airline discourages it. "Here he is over metropolitan New York. This could have been really bad. But he had the presence of mind to ditch the plane in the water."
Sullenberger, 57, who could not be reached for comment, has attended conferences about airline safety and has long been interested in the subject, Roberts said. He lives in Danville with his wife and two daughters.
Roberts said she was looking forward to speaking with Sullenberger to find out how he managed the crisis. Many times, airline crashes go terribly wrong very quickly, she said.
"Often it's a lack of leadership," she said. "Things climb up on one another when they start going wrong.
"I would think they're going to find some things went very well this time."
Others are lining up to praise the Danville man.
Just a few hours after the crash, two Facebook fan pages had been created to express support and appreciation for Sully, with people from San Francisco to Japan calling him "a living legend" and "a true hero."
Outside the Sullenberger home in Danville, news crews were lined up before 5 p.m. Camera crews and reporters from CNN and all the local TV affiliates waited outside the two-story home near Blackhawk for some word.
Margaret Combs, a family friend, emerged. "Everybody is very proud of him," she told the gathered reporters, adding that his wife was not speaking to the media.
"The US Airways legal team told his wife not to say anything, it's still under investigation," said Combs, adding that Sullenberger's wife, Lori, "was still pretty shaky. She's watching it on CNN."
As phones could be heard ringing in the house, Combs said the families' lines were ringing off the hook with interview requests from The New York Times, the "Today Show" and elsewhere.
Neighbor John Garcia added his praises to Sullenberger.
"The attention is well deserved — he's a hero. We in this country need more heroes. He did the right thing," Garcia said.
Sullenberger has flown for US Airways for 29 years. Previously he was an Air Force fighter pilot.
He is CEO and president of his own consulting firm, Safety Reliability Methods Inc., and he speaks internationally on safety issues. He has served as a safety research consultant for NASA and has worked with the National Transportation Safety Board Survival Factors Group.
He has a bachelor's degree in psychology from the U.S. Air Force Academy, an master's degree in industrial psychology from Purdue University, and a master's in public administration from the University of Northern Colorado.
The story of Sullenberger's landing of the crippled plane immediately inspired people from the world to say thank you through various online forums.
Here's a sampling from Facebook, the popular social networking site: