What better way to learn about aviation than from someone who barely lived to tell about it?
It's known as the "Miracle on the Hudson," when pilots maneuvered U.S. Airways flight 1549 into the frigid Hudson River on January 15, 2009, saving everyone on board. The co-pilot on that flight visited Traverse City Thursday night to share his harrowing story of survival to a packed auditorium at Traverse City Central High School. It's a story first flight officer Jeff Skiles has told many times, reliving a six-minute flight that changed his life forever. And what some may look at as a horrible stroke of bad luck, it's what he calls "a thousand moments of good luck."
"I couldn't imagine doing anything else for a living than being an airline pilot," said Skiles.
A cold, January day began as any other for co-pilot Jeff Skiles four years ago. A crowded jetliner, flight 1549, took off from New York City's LaGuardia airport with his Captain, Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, by his side. Just three minutes into the flight, a flock of geese became caught in the plane's engine, causing the jet's engines to fail and the plane to nosedive. Thinking fast was all they could do. Safely landing in the cold Hudson river, and saving the lives of everyone on board, co-pilot Skiles relives those terrifying six minutes and anxious moments after, to teach and inspire future generations.
"Even though it was such a stressful situation, they still handled themselves very professionally and actually even found some humor in what was going on," said Alex Fontaine, Northwestern Michigan College Aviation Program student.
From laughter, to moments of sickness, to describing the freezing water of the Hudson... and moments Skiles can't remember from blacking out... to the days after... Not sleeping and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, the powerful images and first-hand accounts are proving Skiles' life-changing story, no doubt, will continue to leave an impact.
"It's just amazing to hear the calm and collectedness that leads to a successful landing even under those types of conditions," said Danette Bull, also a pilot.
"Aviation has been so much for me in my lifetime. It's been everything," said Skiles. "So to be able to share that with people and maybe even get other people involved in aviation, so they can have the same thrills that I've had... That's just very gratifying for me."
"I just think it helps develop interest in aviation in the community, which is really important because we need more pilots," said Fontaine. "And I think it will help make me a better pilot."
Co-pilot Skiles, along with the entire flight crew of Flight 1549 were all awarded Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators Master's Medals for outstanding aviation achievements. They were also awarded the Keys to the City from Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg. Proceeds from Thursday's event will go directly to the Aviation Explorers program, which will allow two Northern Michigan students to attend a special two-week EAA Air Academy summer camp in Wisconsin.
Learn more about the "spirit of aviation" and EAA go to www.EAA.org.