NEW YORK – “This is your captain, Chesley Sullenberger.”
Passengers on two US Airways flights erupted in cheers when they heard those words from the cockpit Thursday.
“I was overwhelmed when I found out it was him,” said Don Lambert, 61, of Fort Mill, S.C., who flew from Charlotte, N.C., to New York’s LaGuardia Airport. “You feel like you have the best pilot in the world fixing to fly you to New York.”
Sullenberger, the hero pilot who landed a disabled jetliner safely in the Hudson River on Jan. 15, was reunited with co-pilot Jeffrey Skiles on Thursday’s flights, which marked his official return to flying for US Airways.
“It’s good to be back in New York,” Sullenberger said at a LaGuardia news conference. “And it’s good to be back at work.”
Sullenberger said the gratitude of passengers has been “an extraordinary gift.” And he bestowed the same gift on his colleague.
“You have my eternal gratitude for your skill and your courage,” he said, turning to Skiles.
Tempe, Ariz.-based US Airways had told reporters that Sullenberger’s first flight would be later Thursday out of LaGuardia, but that wasn’t true.
Airline spokesman Jonathan Freed acknowledged that the flight out of LaGuardia was actually Sullenberger’s fourth time flying passengers since landing in the Hudson. He flew two flights Sept. 11 as part of his retraining process.
His flight Thursday morning from Charlotte was his first with Skiles.
For Thursday’s passengers, what mattered was the thrill of having Sullenberger at the controls.
Jerome Griffin, 34, of Charlotte, said the landing Thursday afternoon “was one of the smoothest I’ve ever experienced.”
Among the passengers waiting to board the flight from New York to Charlotte was Barry Leonard, who was on the Jan. 15 “Miracle on the Hudson” flight.
A Charlotte resident who works in Manhattan, Leonard said he was excited to retake that flight with Sullenberger and Skiles.
“I chose to do this; this is part of therapy for me,” he said.
Sullenberger landed the Airbus A320 in the Hudson after a collision with a flock of geese killed power in both engines minutes after takeoff Jan. 15. All 155 people on board were saved, and “Sully” was celebrated as an American hero.
Now that he is back with US Airways he will make some regular flights and will supervise other pilots as part of the airline’s safety management team.