“Sully” A Good Movie, But . . .

It’s too bad that despite having such a good story to tell, Hollywood, perhaps not surprisingly, felt they needed a villain. Maybe they felt that if they made the birds the villains, they would incur the anger of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). After all, PETA is pretty litigious.

Maybe the moviemakers didn’t want to incur the wrath of the Canadian moviegoing public by appearing to blame Canada?

Predictably, the film makers picked an always easy target . . . . the Federal Government, specifically the National Transportation Safety Board. After all, everyone is ready to accept the worst when it comes to how the Feds are acting. The only problem is that this time, Hollywood was wrong. No, that’s not true. They were colossally wrong!

Instead of just going to see the movie, (which, by the way, with the exception of the misguided and wrong portrayal of the NSTB) is pretty good, read the transcript of the NTSB factual hearing of the accident [Link]. It was held on June 9-10, 2009, and Sully’s testimony is found on pages 23 to 51. Judge for yourself from the verbatim transcript, whether the portrayal of the NTSB process or the investigators in the movie is accurate.

I represented/assisted the airline during the investigation and, at least as I recall, there was never a hint of a “prosecutorial” approach by the NTSB investigators. Since the issue arose, I have confirmed my recollection with several other people who were involved in the events following the accident. In fact, like everyone, my perception of the NTSB investigation is that they, like a lot of us, were in awe of the airmanship displayed by both Captain Sullenburger and First Officer (now Captain) Jeff Skiles. The crew was, from everything I heard and saw throughout the investigation, treated deferentially.

Did the NTSB investigate everything? Yes. Did they question and examine the decision making process in the cockpit? Absolutely. In short, did they do their job? They did.

Hollywood however has chosen to, unjustifiably, portray the NTSB as villains …a government agency determined to blame the pilots. Investigators out to get their man.

In the name of dramatic license, maybe the moviemakers felt that by creating a villain, they further emphasized the heroic feat of Captain Sullenberger and First Officer Skiles. Maybe, following a formulaic approach that every movie needs a villain, they felt it necessary to demonize the NTSB.

The simple fact however, is that no matter what the justification, it wasn’t justified. Captain Sullenberger and First Officer Skiles were, in many respects, doing their job. It just so happened that in performing their job, they displayed an awesome degree of airmanship, calm and skill. They were a testament to the quality of their training from US Airways and to the airplane they were flying. They were and are representative of everything we, as passengers, want to believe is flying our airplane.

The moviemakers really had more than enough heroics to tell a good story. In doing so, it’s too bad they felt it necessary to denigrate the motives, skill and professionalism of the NTSB.

Go see the movie, but don’t believe everything you see . . .

Originally posted September 12, 2016

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