Miracle on the Hudson, 10 years of a Story about Intuition and Expertise

They are going to celebrate 10 years of the so-called Miracle on the Hudson. Now, for psychologists, what was done by Captain Sully was not a miracle, it was an action performed by an expert mind that was guided by his intuition and great expertise.

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The captain speaks to you, put everyone in an impact position. So Chesley B. Sullenberger (“Sully”) addressed his 150 passengers before carrying out what is known as the miracle on the Hudson. After colliding with a flock of birds and losing control of the engines, this experienced pilot ignored orders and followed only his intuition: landed successfully on the Hudson himself.

It remains in the collective memory that incident that will now be completed ten years. For many, it was the most successful landing in the history of aviation. For others, on the other hand, it was all imprudent. There are still those who believe that the most successful thing would have been to return to the airport and not risk having a feat with a happy ending become a tragedy with a view to New York.

Now, it is precisely here where, from a psychological point of view, the most interesting part of this story opens up; of this miracle on the Hudson. Experts in the field of the sixth sense, intelligence and intuition like Malcolm Gladwell have studied this case to show us that Captain Sully, in fact, did not perform any “miracle”.

His was the feat of an expert. The crew described shortly after that the captain acted at all times with an unusual serenity. Even though his Airbus 320 had run out of engines, he behaved as if he had full control over his ship. And in fact I had it.

The miracle on the Hudson happened in just over three minutes. In that short period of time, his mind valued the situation, analyzed options and carried out what he decided was the most suitable.

From the air traffic control in LaGuardia could witness a chilling fact: they saw the Airbus pass less than 270 meters above the George Washington Bridge.

Miracle at Huston, the story

The story about the miracle at Huston begins at 3:25 p.m. from January 15, 2009. We are at the LaGuardia airport in New York. The day had dawned cold and clear and no impediment was guessed for the flight 1549 of US Airways took off.

Commanding was Captain Sullenberger, “Sully”, a former pilot of the US Air Force. 57 years old. He had more than 20,000 flight hours behind him, but still he could never imagine that he would have to live that strange experience. Within two minutes of taking off, a flock of birds hit the cockpit of the Airbus.

They were Canadian geese, the cabin went dark and the passengers began to hear the impact of some very strong blows. After a few seconds, something unusual happened. That these animals collide from time to time with airplanes is something sadly recurrent. Now, what is no longer so, is that the engines become deactivated.

This is what happened.

Valuing the best option

After the impact, the aircraft began to descend, reaching a speed of 390 km / h at an altitude of about 500 meters. The controllers go to work at the LaGuardia airport. Priority is given to flight 1549 to return. However, to everyone’s surprise, Captain Sully warns the tower that he will not return. Dismiss orders.

Seconds later, you are notified that the closest airport is the Teterboro airport in Bergen county. However, Sully and his co-pilot decide to do the same: give a negative.

We can not do it, we’re not going to any airport. We’re going to land on the Hudson River.


Sully rated the best option in just over a minute. Going back to the LaGuardia airport was a recklessness without having engines. Going to Teterboro was not a very successful strategy. It was an airport with very short runways for a commercial jet as big as its Airbus. The most suitable exit was the Hudson River itself: they were going to liven up.

Throughout the history of aviation until that 2009, only a large commercial aircraft had managed to successfully land. It was the Tupolev Tu-124 in the year 1963. Now, Captain Sully accomplished it with an unusual skill, thus originating the miracle in the Hudson.

Miracle on the Hudson, an example of intuition, experience and skill

Herbert Simon, famous expert in social sciences, pointed out that people with experience in a given subject develop a high mentality, effective and intuitive. Captain Sully is certainly an example of this. However, curious as it may be, the months after that successful experience was a hell for the captain of the Airbus 320.

As Clint Eastwood showed us in the movie Sully, the investigations carried out raised serious doubts as to whether this had been a successful maneuver. Finally, after a rigorous process, it was shown that the captain made use of his extensive experience to execute the best response, which saved 150 passengers and the crew.

It was not a miracle, it was the maneuver of an expert

Indeed, talking about maneuvering is to take away the merit of its protagonist. Thus, Malcolm Gladwell explains that these people are able to react with high efficiency in times of need, by making use of different strategies:

  • Recognition of patterns. Although they do not always live the same situations, they know how to recognize similar stimuli from previous experiences and make use of answers that helped them in the past.
  • They are profiles with a high self-safety and temperance at difficult times.
  • They apply, in turn, expert intuition. Gary Klein, outstanding behavior psychologist, did an interesting study to show us something striking. He points out that expert minds do not ask what to do when there is a difficulty (they do not doubt). They just understand the situation they are in, they analyze it and then they know exactly how to act.

Chesley B. Sullenberger, “Sully”, is a great example of this type of profile.

They are going to celebrate 10 years of the so-called miracle on the Hudson. Remembering this story shows us not only the existence of authentic heroes, but of people who trust fully in their experience, in their intuition and sixth sense to carry out authentic exploits.