It’s my belief that the word miracle is over-used these days. It is my belief that the saving of 155 precious lives was not miraculous, but rather due to the skills of Captain Chesley B. Sullenberger III, who was at the controls of the Airbus when it suddenly lost power and began the descent that could have resulted in the death of all souls aboard.
I do not wish to say that there are not miracles. God forbid that I should do so. In the Bible, there are many miracle stories. These events are sometimes called “signs,” meaning that they point to the presence and power of the Eternal in events. The normal laws of physics may be suspended, and an ax head floats, all to demonstrate the power and creativity of the Ruler of the Universe. Miracles are rare. In the Roman Catholic Church the process of becoming an official saint involves determining whether that person’s intercessions have led to cures of the sick.
I daresay some may want to promote Captain Sullenberger to sainthood. In fact, under carefully regulated conditions, I might vote for him to be given a special place among those who are called saints.
Let’s be truthful here.
First of all, the Airbus 320 that lost power is a large and tough aircraft, built to high standards. It is a comfortable means of transport, and was built to stay in the air as long as thrust is developed from the powerful jet engines. It gives a wonderful ride. I have traveled on one.
Captain Sullenberger is a pilot of long service and skill, whose training has included hours at the yoke, and probably a significant amount of time in a simulator, practicing safety procedures and developing quick reflexes. The trained staff members on the plane deserve medals.
The laws of physics were not suspended in this near tragedy. Gravity still ruled. Momentum and inertia were still on the books. What the Captain did earns a tribute for his cool headed thinking. Knowing that his main source of energy, the jet engines, no longer worked, he used the only energy at his hand, and that was the stored energy of the plane itself and the practical understandings of physics. Keeping his head about him, he reversed course, which might have been against his instincts, and headed towards the suddenly hospitable Hudson River. That turn may have allowed some speed to bleed off, setting him up for a more controlled descent onto the water.
Another factor that must be mentioned is that there are many watercraft with trained personnel on the Hudson, and they were quickly on the scene, helping bring cold and wet folks to shore for medical attention and warming up.
There may be many who still want to call this brilliant feat of piloting a miracle. That is perfectly OK for me, speaking as a minister of the Gospel. The consistent working of an orderly universe, mated with the Captain’s skill and intelligence, allowed the day to be saved for people on a routine trip to Charlotte from New York. I would say the whole thing was marvelous, but hardly a miracle in the Biblical sense.
Let us thank God that there are people like Captain “Sulley” Sullenberger. Would that there were more like him in every vocation.
If there is a miracle in this story, it is the wonder of the human mind, and the resilience of the human spirit, in a time of great stress.
LAWTON W. POSEY is a retired minister living in Charleston, W. Va.