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The New “Sully” Movie: How Accurate?

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The New “Sully” Movie: How Accurate?

The New “Sully” Movie: How Accurate?
August 28
17:00 2016

Ladies and gentlemen, from the Flight Blog, this is your Cap’n speaking… welcome aboard my first story at the new!

Before we close the door and push back, a quick introduction. My name is Eric Auxier, a Columnist for Airways. I am also an Airbus captain with 20-Something thousand hours in the cockpit. Some of you may know me by my alter ego, “Cap’n Aux,” at my blog.

Needless to say, we’re gonna have some fun here!

Well, the whole aviation world is abuzz with the pending release of the new Sully movie, commemorating the famous “Miracle on the Hudson” of US Airways Flight 1549.

On January 15, 2009, an Airbus A320 operating from New York’s LaGuardia to Charlotte experienced an emergency water landing in the Hudson River after multiple bird strikes caused both engines to fail.

Aviation enthusiasts around the world have seen the trailers starring Tom Hanks as Cap’n Sully, and are salivating in anticipation of a good aviation tale well-told.

Judging from the trailers, we may ask, Just how well-told?



As a Captain on the same model airplane (Airbus A320) for the same company (the airline formerly known as US Airways), I think I’m uniquely positioned to give you an educated guess.

Here’s a few tidbits that stand out for me:

  • In the Trailer 1 at 00:29, Sully is entering the cockpit, revealing that his uniform, right down to his ID badge, is 100% accurate.


  • After the birdstrike, Sully states, “My aircraft.” First Officer Skiles replies, “Your aircraft,” and relinquishes the flight controls to the Captain. This is dead-on accurate. The NTSB crash investigation reports: “At 1527:23, the captain took over control of the airplane, stating, ‘my aircraft.'” Moreover, this “positive transfer” is not only standard CRM (Crew Resource Management) nomenclature, but is also in accordance with the company’s policy requiring positive transfer of aircraft control. (While the Captain may not necessarily take control in such a situation, for whatever reason, Sully did, and the rest is history.)


  • Immediately after Sully takes control, Skiles pulls out the QRH—the Quick Reference Handbook. The movie QRH looks exactly like the real thing, and this action is also what the PM (Pilot Monitoring) would do. In the QRH, he would look on the back page for “Immediate Action Items and Exceptions.” There, he would find the Dual Engine Failure Checklist, and turn to it. Skiles did exactly that, according to the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) report:

“The first officer indicated that, because he had just completed training, he immediately recognized that the event was an ECAM exception; therefore, he was able to promptly locate the procedure listed on the back cover of the QRH, turn to the appropriate page, and start executing the checklist.”

Unfortunately, the Dual Engine Failure Checklist assumes dual loss at cruise altitude, and is an enormous bugaboo to complete; Sully and Skiles had no hope of sloughing through the Dual Failure tome that day. Indeed, one of the NTSB recommendations was that Airbus create an expedited checklist for dual failure at low altitude.

  • Sully’s announcement, “This is the Captain. Brace for impact,” followed by the flight attendants shouting in unison, “Brace for impact! Heads down—stay down!” is again 100% accurate for the brace commands at the time.

The best aviation stories are not about planes, not about the saves, nor the airmanship nor the crashes. They’re about the humans behind the wheel; the heart, soul, and spirit of the machine, without whom an airplane is nothing but a pretty hunk of metal sitting lifeless on the tarmac.

This, I believe, will be where the movie truly shines. For, contrary to Hollywood’s cookie-cutter version of the stoic, steely-eyed, bullet-proof super pilot, in the end we are all human, prone to human error—and human frailty.

No one today plays a better “any man” than Tom Hanks. Like Jimmy Stewart before him, Hanks has a unique, humble way of connecting with the audience, so that we experience the personal journey that he, the character, takes.

Ultimately, this appears to be a character-driven story—that of a professional pilot facing not only an incredible event, but the harrowing aftermath of its investigation.

The toll it takes on himself, his family, and life. Simultaneously—and reluctantly—thrust into the spotlight, hailed as a hero, investigated as a criminal, and all the while second-guessing his own actions. Who among us could handle such pressure?

It appears that the main thrust of the movie will be the crash investigation, which Producer/Director Clint Eastwood claims was somewhat of a witch hunt. While this may be a good premise for the movie—and at times the real players no doubt felt this way—I believe that, in reality, it was not the case.

Any crash investigation requires investigators to leave no stone unturned, with their sole mandate to find the Probable Cause of a crash, for one reason: to prevent another, similar accident in the future. Turning the pilots’ lives upside down would simply be a matter of course.

When telling a story, even a nonfiction one, an author or director must take “artistic license” in order to tell the story in a compelling way, as well as help a general audience understand what could be a complex situation, such as flying a jet airliner.

Get bogged down too much in minutiae of facts, and you begin to lose the audience. As long as the author/writer/director expresses the “flavor” and “essence” of a story, I’m more than happy with it.


The author (R) takes in the Oshkosh 2015 night airshow with Captain Sully (L).

In this regard, it appears that Eastwood has nailed it. So, I will give him the benefit of the doubt for the apparent main plot of the “bad guys out to hang the good guys”—but I hope he doesn’t go too far in vilifying what is a very noble profession: air crash investigator.

While the eponymous movie obviously focuses on Sully, I dearly hope that we will also get to know and see some of the rest of the crew who did such a magnificent job that day, especially the cabin crew during the evacuation.

Moreover, First Officer Skiles, has lived in Sully’s shadow ever since, and this is one area I’m a tad concerned with in regards to the movie: all the trailers have Skiles looking surprised at Sully, as the man flies, talks, and lands—essentially a one-man band.

Hollywood—and, frankly, news broadcasters, from CNN to Fox—tend to forget there are TWO fully-qualified, experienced pilots in any airline cockpit, and the First Officer isn’t simply there to serve the captain coffee.

The essence of CRM is for the Captain to fully incorporate the crew—i.e., First Officer, and the cabin crew if relevant, to maximize safety. According to the NTSB report, for example, shortly before landing, Sully asks Skiles, “got any ideas?” to which Skiles replies, “actually not.”

As simple as it may sound, this is the essence of good CRM. Who knows, perhaps the FO may have had a tidbit of knowledge or a brilliant idea that could have saved the day.

(By the way, the actor that plays Skiles, Aaron Eckhart could be his twin brother—good job, Casting and Makeup departments!)

Producer/Director Eastwood has an excellent track record for well-told, accurate stories, and it looks like he took extreme strides to get this one right.

I can’t think of a better man to be in the Captain’s seat for this movie. I have high expectations. So high, I fear, there’s nowhere to go but down in the Hudson…

Come September 9th, we’ll all find out. In any case, prepare to Brace for Impact!

Until next time, This is Cap’n Aux… Signing Off!

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About Author

Eric Auxier

Eric Auxier

Airbus A321 Captain with over 22,000 flight hours, and 37 years flying for a major US airline. Plenty of experience in Alaskan and Caribbean skies, and popular aviation blogger and author of nine books. Scored Amazon's "Top 100 Breakthrough Novels" for "The Last Bush Pilots."

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  1. Phoenix
    Phoenix August 28, 17:42

    Very interesting take Captain. As much as I respect Tom Hanks and Clint Eastwood’s abilities, my fear is that Hollywood overamplifies the witchhunt and the inflight drama just because they have a movie to sell, whereas it was relatively calm and professional onboard the actual doomed flight.

    Will we be counting on a full review once the movie drops? As a qualified USAir A320 driver I feel you’re more qualified than anyone to provide a professional perspective.

  2. Leo Wood
    Leo Wood August 28, 19:36

    Nice article. I, too felt that the imaginary witch hunt aspects of the story will be way over blown…

  3. Eric Auxier
    Eric Auxier Author August 28, 19:59

    Thanks for the comment, Phoenix. I, too, am concerned with the Hollywood (melo)drama vs. reality, vs. the need to entertain.

    Airways has asked me to do a full review of the movie when it comes out, so stay tuned to this page!


  4. Patricia Rock
    Patricia Rock August 28, 21:16

    Thank you Cap’n Aux for this pre movie analysis. I too hope enough credit will go to the crew. From what I read and the news reports at the time, all of the credit went to Captain Sully.

  5. Phoenix
    Phoenix August 28, 23:18

    Sounds great! Looking forward to it!

    Take care in the meantime.

  6. Rinaldo B
    Rinaldo B August 29, 06:36

    Thank you capt’n for this very catchy article. Hope to see the movie ASAP, the trailers looked promising. Would love to see a similar analysis of another aweaome movie: Flight with Denzel Washington, so far maybe the best av related movie?

  7. Doug P
    Doug P August 29, 09:02

    Isn’t it unfortunate that we, as professional pilots, accept the “witch hunt” as being a normal part of our jobs? I agree a thorough investigation is paramount, but sometimes it has come off as a “witch hunt”. Can’t wait to see the movie! Hopefully it’s better than “Flight” was.

  8. Eric Auxier
    Eric Auxier Author August 29, 10:56

    Yes, Leo, let’s cross our fingers it’s not true. Thanks for the comment!

  9. Eric Auxier
    Eric Auxier Author August 29, 10:57

    You too, Phoenix! Thanks for the comment.

  10. Eric Auxier
    Eric Auxier Author August 29, 11:00

    I believe much of the blame f(or Sully getting all the credit) goes to the media. They like to focus on “The Pilot” of any given airline incident, conveniently forgetting there are two pilots up there, as well as a fully-qualified and trained cabin crew. Many heroes that day.
    Thank you for the comment.

  11. Eric Auxier
    Eric Auxier Author August 29, 11:05

    Thanks for chiming in!
    Honestly, I refused to see “Flight” on principle. Why? Because it begins the movie with a drunk pilot doing cocaine with a flight attendant in bed, hours before his flight. This is about as far from reality as Hollywood can get—and they can get pretty ridiculously far (not even mentioning the “flight” here).

    Today’s pilots are PROFESSIONALS, and this cartoon caricature is deplorable. (Of course there are alcoholics or addicts in any profession, but we have very robust programs dealing with that occasional issue.)

    That said, others have said it’s a good “human drama” once you get past the BS of the flight and crash…but I know I couldn’t get past that part. I would be walking out in disgust!

    Thanks for your comment!

  12. Eric Auxier
    Eric Auxier Author August 29, 11:07

    I agree, sometimes investigations do seem to come off as a witch hunt. I’m not quite sure this was the case, but it certainly seems the movie will be portraying it that way. As I mentioned in the article, even if it’s a “standard” investigation, to the players it would probably seem like a witch hunt. I certainly wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of it!
    Thanks for your comment.

  13. charlotte
    charlotte August 29, 11:38

    Sully will be a good movie, Clint Eastwood is the best director in the industrie also filming american sniper, Can’t wait to see the movie.

  14. Peter F. Hartmann
    Peter F. Hartmann August 29, 11:45

    Wowee – an airplane lands on the water and people lived!

    I was personally at a lecture when Skiles told us all about it. (did you know he now has his own SES and thus can now land on the water legally…? )

  15. Eric Auxier
    Eric Auxier Author August 29, 12:10

    I believe you’re right. I loved American Sniper, too! Very humane, and very well done. I’ve loved all of Clint Eastwood’s movies so far.
    Thanks for your comment.

  16. Jim Murray
    Jim Murray August 29, 12:33

    I wonder if the passenger who opened the rear exit door will be exposed for prematurely flooding the plane.

  17. Carl J
    Carl J August 29, 14:10

    I notice in the trailer that the captain is wearing a long sleeve shirt.

    I can’t EVER recall seeing a pilot wear a LONG SLEEVE shirt ??

  18. Rinaldo B
    Rinaldo B August 29, 14:14

    Now that you let me think that there might be people who could believe something like that…I totally agree with you on the BS that can generate for the general public. It is an amazing movie btw and the flight part is disconnected from the guy’s personal issues and is so far the best flight deck representation I’ve seen in a movie. Some stuff is crap but the overall captain and FO actions are at least not that far from real life. Btw, nobody would takeoff in a storm like that, thats whyba pro an analysis would be a good thing. And you’re also right, the human drama part is a masterpiece, great play by Denzel Washington.

  19. Eric Auxier
    Eric Auxier Author August 29, 14:43

    Haha, good point! It’s funny, I’ve flown for two seaplane ops in my life and have yet to receive my SES or MES rating! (I flew land planes for them.)
    Thanks for the comment, Peter.

  20. Eric Auxier
    Eric Auxier Author August 29, 14:44

    Good question, Jim. Then again, you see your plane sinking fast, what would you do? Quite an extreme situation for all involved.
    Thanks for the comment.

  21. Eric Auxier
    Eric Auxier Author August 29, 14:47

    LOL, good point, I didn’t catch that!

    Well, 2 thoughts: 1.) Many pilots DO wear long sleeve shirts…to hide tattoos! And 2.) It was January in New York, and I believe about 20° outside. I could easily see pilots wearing a long sleeve at least.

    Personally, all mine are short sleeve, but it’s an individual preference.

    Thanks for your comment, Carl!

  22. Mack
    Mack August 29, 18:29

    I can’t wait to see this movie. My interest is purely from curiosity of the events, because I was absolutely mesmerized by it when it happened. While you are so much more aware of details about a flight, I am hungry for a great human interest story with a fantastic ending, because they are so rare these days, in movie format. I also have a pilot son who graduated from USAFA as well and am looking forward to hearing anything in the movie that shines a positive light on how Sully made his decisions during the crisis, and if his USAFA training had bearing on that. Great pre-review and so glad I found this artilce!

  23. Eric Auxier
    Eric Auxier Author August 29, 20:51

    It sounds like this movie will have something for everyone.

    I agree, it sounds like it will be a human interest story at its heart. I’m guessing we’ll hear some about Sully’s past as well, such as his USAFA and former glider training. Whether that is relevant or not to his actual event is anybody’s guess, but I have no doubt Director Eastwood will couch it in an interesting and entertaining light.

    Thanks for your comment, Mack.


  24. Val Venis
    Val Venis August 29, 23:09

    Captain, thank you for this article. Looking forward to the post release follow up.

    Question: My understanding was that the plane was at least somewhat submerged very quickly. Can you comment on the accuracy of one of the last scenes in the first trailer where Sully checks the cabin for pax as it compares to the timeline of events? Was this scene accurate?

  25. Eric Auxier
    Eric Auxier Author August 30, 18:31

    Hmm, good question. That may take some digging.

    I do understand that he was the last person off, walked through the cabin twice to check for passengers, and took the logbook with him.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if this is a bit where Eastwood takes “artistic license” and shows him wading through the water a la “Titanic.” Not sure if that was the case or not.

    Thanks for the question, Val.

  26. Ray
    Ray August 30, 20:03

    Totally agree with your comment in regards to the focus being solely on the pilot-in-command. QF32 is another example of this.

  27. Craig Jackson
    Craig Jackson August 30, 22:35

    Eric, Thanks to Clint Eastwood, looking forward to seeing when released. It is good to see years of tenured airline airmenship skills developed when pilots flew in cockpits with understanding the very basics of flying skills, stalls, etc and knowing how the airplane feels and react. As Capt Sully, you, I and many of your readers remember airline accidents, incidents were very common in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s such as Eastern 401, Pan Am/KLM, PSA 182, American 191, air florida 90, Pan Am 759, Delta 191, Northwest 255, Alaska 261, Valujet, etc…. Aviators flying United 232, United 811, Aloha 243 are also excellent examples of supreme flying skills when confronted with challenging flying mishaps. We once had so many, the strive for automating aspects of commercial flying along with cockpit resource management were great tools as it made flying safer. Safer statistically in ways that was once a goal to today’s airline sector relative to record traffic commodities carried today compared to decades earlier. Many do not remember or have a concept of previous fatal routine accidents rates. Seeing senior airmen flying with basic flying skills flying a disabled airliner at low altitude is supreme airmenship. All future airline pilots should view and study all case studies to ensure safe flying for all of us. A lesson to up and coming airline pilots, understand your aircraft and know how to fly when systems are failing or the aircraft is damaged. When perfectly flying aircraft are simply falling out of the sky from high altitude stalls, experience in the cockpit should always be paramount verses total automation and lack of flying skills.

  28. Uma Venkatraman
    Uma Venkatraman August 30, 23:45

    There was never really a witch-hunt, was there? The actions of the pilots was validated, and the entire crew was given awards. Is all the drama about the investigation and Sully’s “troubled” past a fictionalised account?

  29. Todd Thompson Retired USAF
    Todd Thompson Retired USAF August 31, 07:18

    Ok ladies and gentlemen, here’s the real miracle: Compare this incident with Sioux City, 1989, United Airlines Flight 232. Captains Sully and “Al” Haynes have something very much in common (besides being military men).

    To be the pilots in control and held responsible of the events when their airliner goes down with “souls on board”, these men realize the timing and location of where and when it happened, with all the trained response rescue teams immediately available (saving many lives/in Sully’s case all lives).. is the real miracle. No matter what one believes, it sure makes you think.

  30. Eric Auxier
    Eric Auxier Author August 31, 12:37

    I agree. Sadly, it seems the simplistic media wants one “hero” to hold up, rather than “confusing the issue” or “watering down the story” with others involved.

    As for Captain Richard de Crespigny, captain of QF32 (and author of “QF32”), pilot of the A380 whose Number 2 engine exploded, damaging all but one system, we did a 3-part interview with him last year. (See our Airways Magazine “Black Swan Event” series in Jul-Aug-Sep 2015 issues, as well as our “Black Swan Event” video interviews here on

    Captain de Crespigny does many talks around the world, and in both them and our interview, he is always quick to praise not only his flight crew, but the cabin crew as well. In particular, he praises his head purser, who really saved the day by keeping the passengers calm during the event. His telling of the story is quite captivating.

    I would love to see Clint Eastwood try his hand at the QF32 story!

    Thanks for the comment, Ray.


  31. Eric Auxier
    Eric Auxier Author August 31, 12:50

    You make so many good points. I will address the UA232 issue in another comment below, but I agree that CRM (Crew Resource Management, originally called Cockpit Resource Management) and automation have vastly improved aviation safety. Moreover, good training, experience, and basic piloting skills were crucial to saving many lives in the era you speak of—and the lack thereof causing many deaths.

    One major trend I fear is our industry move toward “ab-initio” training, where a pilot is taken straight from college and into the airline cockpit, taught like a monkey to push buttons, with very little knowledge or understanding of the systems and fundamentals of piloting.

    While the U.S. has long had a system of “school of hard knocks” that trained our upcoming civilian pilots “the hard way”—by raw experience from the trenches—I’m afraid these fundamentals will get trampled in the race toward automation.

    Automation itself has vastly improved airline safety, but what happens when when the goose hits the fan? Examples such as QF32 and UA232, and to an extent even the Hudson “miracle” stand out as examples of the experienced human pilot in action. Air France 447 and AirAsia 8501, sadly, could be taken as recent examples of the human factor making matters worse. (See my AirwaysMag article, “Understanding Air Asia 8501,” cowritten with Captain Bill Palmer.)

    Great comment, Craig, thanks!


  32. Eric Auxier
    Eric Auxier Author August 31, 13:04

    Good question.
    As I’ve mentioned, to the real players involved, any investigation could feel at times as a “witch hunt.”
    I do believe that Eastwood will explore the human aspect of the investigation—a pilot whose life has been turned upside down by events, from decisions that he made. So, perhaps “witch hunt” is in the eye of the beholder. We’ll see just how far Eastwood takes this, but I believe the more interesting aspect of the movie could be about the toll it takes on the “reluctant hero thrust into the spotlight.”
    Thanks for your question, Uma.

  33. Eric Auxier
    Eric Auxier Author August 31, 13:47

    Absolutely agree. Any “miracle” requires miraculous circumstances, and “location, location, location.” We wouldn’t exactly call the Titanic the “Miracle on the North Atlantic.”
    In the case of Captain Al Haynes and UA232, it took extraordinary airmanship, coupled with CRM (Crew Resource Management)—which, at the time, was in its infancy—to save so many lives. As well as those rescue crews on the ground.
    Captain Haynes not only enlisted his flight deck crew, he called up a deadheading DC-10 Check Airman from the cabin to assist. They put their heads together, thought outside the box, and solved the problem.
    Great comment, Todd, thanks!

  34. Layman
    Layman August 31, 16:48

    The Sully story is actually one of taking a decision and then executing it properly. It demonstrates the difference between decisions by consensus versus strong leadership in those black swan moments.
    Reference to AF447 is apt, as in my lay view, that plane would have been saved had better CRM been practiced. Had the three AF pilots communicated better, they could have split the workload to separate the various alarms to isolate the erroneous ones from the correct ones.

  35. Eric Auxier
    Eric Auxier Author September 01, 01:10

    I quite agree. A strong, quick decision had to be made, and the plan stuck to. People may debate for years to come whether that split-second decision was the “right” one, but as they say, you can’t argue with success.

    Also agreed that AF447, like QZ8501 (AirAsia) after it, was full of human error leading to a very preventable accident.

    Thank you for your comment, Layman.


  36. Dan
    Dan September 09, 03:31

    I just watched and enjoyed the movie very much.

    The “witch hunt” was emphasized, with the NTSB and airline insurance company being the antagonists.

    The post water landing situation seems pretty unfair to the flight crew but plausible at the same time so I do wonder how accurate the portrayal was.

    I don’t remember news of flight simulations where the plane could have made it back to the airport but looking online I can find the news articles.

    I mostly remember the few interviews that Sully did immediately after the event. If he was going through the wringer as described in the movie, I am impressed with his ability to handle that and present the public face that he did.

    I don’t know how much drama was invented but I enjoyed the film more than American Sniper (Bradley Cooper did not impress me very much).

  37. Eric Auxier
    Eric Auxier Author September 10, 01:43

    Glad you enjoyed the movie. I have yet to see it, but I, too, am curious about fact vs. fiction. I have no doubt the insurance companies, at least, might have a dog in the fight regarding pinning it on the pilots, but I would think the NTSB would be more objective.

    I studied the NTSB report, and we are coming out with an analysis of that in regards to what pilots can learn from the accident. Investigators ran 4 scenarios. In the first, all test pilots made it back to LGA. In the 3rd, however, which most closely mirrored Cactus 1549, barely over 50% made it. What’s more, they had to cross over Manhattan to do so.

    Which begs the question: what would you do?

    Thanks for your comment, Dan.


  38. Doug L
    Doug L September 10, 06:54

    I saw the movie last night. The witch hunt aspect was emphasized perhaps a little too much, IMHO. The lead investigator was certainly the antagonist. Anna Gunn as a professional investigator was a bit of a stretch for me since I saw her in Breaking Bad.

    Technically, I had a couple of questions for you Captain … 1) at the hearing in June, the movie showed simulations being run “live and on-line” … is that possible and accurate? 2) in those sims, the pilots are shown with hands on the thrust levers (not sure if they actually tried to move them) but with both engines out, why bother?


  39. Wright W Gore
    Wright W Gore September 10, 08:31

    Are the engines types the same throughout the movie?

  40. Eric Auxier
    Eric Auxier Author September 10, 12:27

    Glad to hear you (mostly) enjoyed the movie. I’ve been busy flying, so have not had a chance to see it yet, but I’m not surprised they paint the NTSB as the bad guys.

    I can’t answer for the sims being run “live and online”—seems unlikely. But, I would agree that it was a touch of Hollywood, keeping those hands on the thrust levers (not throttles, as they typically stay locked in a detent and don’t move for the majority of the flight.) However, if the Pilot Flying has the autothrust disconnected, s/he would realistically be jockeying the thrust levers. But, as you said, with both engines dead, what’s the point?
    Good catches, Doug, and thanks for the comment.
    PS—Come to think of it, we DO keep our hands on the thrust levers on short final, in case we have to shove them forward for a Go Around. So, the case could be argued that the pilot had his hands on them because that’s what he was trained to do. Now that I think about it, I may have done the same thing, even if I knew the thrust wasn’t available. Old habits, and all. 🙂

  41. Eric Auxier
    Eric Auxier Author September 10, 12:28

    Good question, Wright. I’ll keep an eye out when I watch it!

  42. Jim Knowles
    Jim Knowles September 10, 22:22

    Thank you, Cap’n Aux,
    At the hearing in the movie, they showed the pilots in a simulator successfully landing at LaGuardia, after turning back right after the bird strike, and the investigators seem to reach the conclusion that Sully should have done just that. It’s only after he reminds them that the simulator pilots were instructed to do that, and in real life, the pilots had to first figure out what exactly happened and consider a lot of other things before deciding to try to return to LaGuardia. My question is, is that accurate? I can’t believe that the investigators would have to be reminded of something so obvious.

  43. Eric Auxier
    Eric Auxier Author September 11, 16:48

    I agree, it seems a bit simplistic that the NTSB would take out the “human factor,” when one of their main areas of focus would be the human factor itself.

    I just saw the movie myself, today on 9/11 of all days.

    I now see what you and others are talking about–that the sims were being run live, real-time, during the hearing. That did not happen. Nor did Sully again “save the day” by suggesting to add the human factor. In fact, by the time the hearing occured, they had already conducted sim runs in which only 53% made the field—after being briefed on what was going to happen, and what to do.
    In reality, the dramatic final scene where the hearing was held with live simulator runs, was played out over the course of months. But, of course, a director does not have that luxury, nor a movie audience the patience. So, I must give Director Eastwood “artistic license” during that scene, as it sums up the plot as well as the investigation in a tidy, dramatic scene.
    The sim sessions themselves played out realistically, and on a side note, (nearly) all of the sounds you hear in the cockpit scenes were true to Airbuses, if occasionally out of sequence (again, I give the Director artistic license and credit for using them effectively.) So, again, kudos to Eastwood.

    I must say, it was a fantastically well-done movie, perhaps the closest to reality of any aviation movie I’ve seen in recent years.

    Thanks for your comment, Jim.


  44. Richard Menor
    Richard Menor September 12, 12:53

    I saw the movie this weekend and while I did enjoy it, I was deeply disappointed with Mr Eastwood’s depiction of the NTSB investigators. From the beginning of the movie it was very apparent that Mr Eastwood’s anti-government leanings would be on full display.

    In my opinion, the NTSB, with its focus on investigating all elements of an accident in an unbiased fashion, is the main reason for the incredible safety record the air industry now enjoys.

    Aside from impugning the reputation of the actual investigators, Mr Eastwood implies that the NTSB is just a bunch of incompedent government workers that back up to their paychecks every two weeks.

    Very sad that in today’s polarized environment, Mr Eastwood would choose to display such an obvious one-sidedness to what was a very well conducted investigation

    I enjoy reading your comments and thoughts on issues involving flying.

  45. George R
    George R September 12, 12:58

    Let me to make two points:
    * After seeing the movie and after reading the reviews about depicting NTSB investigators as villains, I have done the easiest thing – searched Google. I found a number of articles from 2010 that referred to the NTSB and said that the flight could well return to La Guardia. So there is sufficient prima facie evidence to open the question of which hunting of 1549 crew by NTSB investigators. This move is part of a debate on that question.
    * I am neither a pilot, nor an aviation expert, but I was trained as an investigators in a different context. One take from that context is (a) being polite to either party and (b)respecting presumption of innocence.

    On the second point I spoke with high ranking police officers and with judges. They emphasised that a compassion with suspects or alleged subjects, etc. is one of the ways that help the investigator to maintain objectivity. They also shared with me that some of the judges, serving long on the bench, or long-time investigators, may become victim of their feeling of importance and infallibility.

    So I would definitely agree with Doug P. that there is a need to make a distinction between the objective investigation and a witch hunting, and to avoid crossing the fragile line.

  46. Eric Auxier
    Eric Auxier Author September 13, 02:32

    You make some interesting points. I can certainly see how a little compassion and empathy can go a long way—as well as the presumption of innocence—in helping investigators.
    I definitely think Eastwood went a little far in depicting investigators as antagonists, but not as far as I feared—there were no snarling villains sporting top hats and curly mustaches—and, in the end, the movie’s “hero” actually wins them over to his side.
    Again, we’re seeing a Hollywood movie produced for entertainment (and to sell tickets, which it is doing quite well), not a documentary. While I think the NTSB scenes were the biggest fiction (especially the final hearing), I am happy that the most accurate scenes in the movie were in the cockpit itself.
    Thanks for your comment, George.

  47. Eric Auxier
    Eric Auxier Author September 13, 02:42

    I agree, the NTSB certainly gets a bad rap in this movie, and it is indeed a noble profession (as I’d mentioned in the article.) I, too, wish he would have chosen to interview “the other side of the story,” and perhaps come up with a more balanced view.
    Then again, a movie Director/Producer looks for and needs conflict for a drama to unfold in an entertaining fashion, and no doubt Eastwood took the easy way out.
    I can only hope that, as Eastwood and company accept their inevitable Oscars come awards time, they perhaps may have a kind word or two for those “villains” who’ve saved so many lives over the decades.
    Thanks for chiming in, Richard.

  48. Paula J Snyder
    Paula J Snyder September 15, 16:04

    I just saw “Sully” yesterday and was very impressed! I have always liked Tom Hanks and felt that he portrayed Sully as I think Sully would be. One “goof” I caught was when Katie Couric was doing her sit-down interview with Sully, the camera starts the scene showing her left hand. The left hand does not have any jewelry on it at all. The next scene she is in…….lo and behold……….there is a large diamond ring on the ring finger of her left hand!!! My granddaughter was quite impressed that her G-ma caught something and she hadn’t!!! 🙂

  49. Dennis Hoyne
    Dennis Hoyne September 15, 23:44

    One thing I take issue with after seeing the movie yesterday, and it’s not really a big deal is doing the sequence of the aircraft descending and landing on the river, I keep hearing the sound of jet engines. Wouldn’t the sound be more of wind noise when the engines are inoperative? Just looking for a thought on this. All in all superbly done movie. By the way I’m a retired airline pilot.

  50. Eric Auxier
    Eric Auxier Author September 16, 01:21

    Wow, good catch! I definitely missed that LOL. Glad you liked the movie! While ultimately it’s “just a movie,” it was a good portrayal of what goes on in the cockpit.
    Thanks for your comment, Paula.

  51. Alec W. Coulibaly
    Alec W. Coulibaly September 16, 20:41

    If you watch the trailer, at 00:32 you can spot American Airlines aircraft with the post-2013 livery. You can also see United Airlines 737s with the post Continental-United merger livery, AND with the Split Scimitar winglets. Finally, at 0:24 the A320 seems to have the wrong engines (IAE V2500 instead of the CFM56-5B4/P N106US had), although that may just be the angle.

    Going to watch the movie tonight, so I hope those are the only major inaccuracies/mistakes (apart from the antagonistic portrayal of the NTSB) I will see tonight.

  52. Eric Auxier
    Eric Auxier Author September 16, 22:50

    Good catch. I, too, noticed the sound, but wrote it off as wind noise, and perhaps the whistling sound of damaged, windmilling engines. I do know at times one or both had partial power as well, so who knows?
    Maybe the best explanation, however, is that the average viewer expects that noise, so that the scene appears more realistic to them, so the Director added it. Hollywood at work!
    Thanks for your comment, and I hope you’re enjoying your retirement, Dennis!

  53. JR_justJR
    JR_justJR September 17, 10:38

    The NTSB report, page 50, makes it clear that fully briefed pilots in simulators, knowing what was going to happen, only made a succesful runway return 55% of the time. A failure, the other 45%, means that the A320, its 155 pax-crew, and 20000 lbs of jet fuel would hit a building in Manhattan. Sully/Stiles made the right choice, and Hollywood (being Hollywood) just amped-up the drama a bit. But they got all the important facts right on this one. (OK, except the GW bridge bit. That was pure Hollywood drama)

  54. Susan
    Susan September 17, 21:41

    Just saw the movie; wondering about the NTSB’s statements when the engine was brought up from the Hudson. Surely much of that damage occurred when the plane hit the water – after all, hitting the water produced enough force to rip the engines off the wings. I have no doubt that the engines were damaged by birds – but can the damage from the birds be separated from the damage done by hitting the water?

  55. Eric Auxier
    Eric Auxier Author September 18, 10:57

    Yes, you’re right. Good catches! But, of course that’s one of those minor details that only true aviation officionados would spot. I certainly wouldn’t call it an “error” on the director’s part; he’s got to shoot what is available today. Makes it almost a fun game for us avgeeks to spot discrepancies such as that.
    Thanks for your comment, Alec.

  56. Eric Auxier
    Eric Auxier Author September 18, 11:04

    I agree, the NTSB investigation was definitely amped up as the bit of “fiction” to cause conflict in the story. I know there are several at the Board (especially those involved) cringing over the artistic liberties. But, the aviation scenes are pretty darned accurate, which of course any of us here would be most concerned about.
    Speaking of which, that brings up a “creative use” of the Airbus sounds. As it approaches the bridge, you hear the GPWS (Ground Prox Warning System) call out, “Obstacle Ahead!” Once they pass it, you hear, “Clear of conflict.” When that happened, I laughed out loud. “Clear of Conflict” is a call from the TCAS (Terminal Collision Avoidance System), which helps avoid planes, not obstacles. But, I had to give it to Director Eastwood: that was a brilliant use of the warnings he had to work with. To the general audience who wouldn’t know any better, it helped “tell the story” to them that they had cleared the bridge!
    Perhaps the Next Gen of TCAS will be strapped onto all birds as well. ;o)
    Thanks for your comment, JR.

  57. Eric Auxier
    Eric Auxier Author September 18, 11:06

    Good point. I, too, wonder if they could figure that out “post mortem.” I think that was just a convenient bit thrown in at a convenient time to help the final, dramatic scene.
    Thanks for your comment!

  58. Eric Auxier
    Eric Auxier Author September 18, 11:08

    By the way, JR wrote an excellent piece pondering who may be “the real villains” of the Sully story. Check it out here:

  59. JR_justJR
    JR_justJR September 18, 11:35

    Fun trivia; The word is “snarge” the biological residue of birds in engines. (from USAF: snotty garbage) The engines contained the remains of several geese, identified as a mix of males/females by DNA. It is in the NTSB report. Also snarge on wings, fuselage, and below cockpit window.

    No jet engine (yet) is designed to handle multiple impacts of 10 lb birds at 250 mph.

  60. Eric Auxier
    Eric Auxier Author September 18, 23:51

    Ha! Now, isn’t that interesting!
    I must say, it was somewhat morbidly fascinating to read about how they discerned the makeup of the flock that entered the engines via DNA.
    I agree: no jet engine can (so far) withstand that kind of pummeling!
    Thanks again for another great comment, JR.

  61. Reenee
    Reenee September 21, 08:33

    I was on this flight and one of the passengers in the back of the plane. The back exit DID NOT and Would not open. Had it opened we all would have drowned back there! I then had to run waist deep in water hoping over seats to make it all the way to the front exit because when I went to exit out the wing I was told that the wing was full and to keep going.

  62. Eric Auxier
    Eric Auxier Author September 21, 13:42

    Oh, my, that must have been a terrifying experience! One thing neither the movie nor other cameras could convey is the freezing temperatures that day. Outside, it looks like a sunny day, but the temperatures were typical for January. Inside, wading through the water…I can only imagine you were close to hypothermic shock!
    Thank you for clarifying the situation for the above comment. I am glad all is ok for you!

  63. Clara S.
    Clara S. September 22, 20:27

    I still find it hard to believe that I had a premonition about this accident the night before. I remember very vividly how, in my dream, a white plane had taken off and was flying over a river, when suddenly both engines fell off (it’s an irrational fear I got after watching the documentary about AA 191), but it didn’t crash (unlike most of my dreams involving airplanes).

    Your analysis of the movie, based on previews, is quite impressive. I bet it’s easy to judge when you share the same profession and fly the same plane. Obviously, while this movie is very accurate, I noticed Hollywood somehow failed to maintain consistency in certain aspects, such as the aircraft’s engines. As someone had commented earlier, you can see an IAE V2500 in one of the scenes, when clearly those were not the engines mounted in the Airbus A320 involved in the accident (GE Snecma CFM56). It sorta reminds me of a Seinfeld episode where Jerry and Elaine are flying from St. Louis to New York, and they interchange a Boeing 737 and what appears to be a DC-9 between scenes (I wonder how many people ever noticed that).

    There are virtual simulations and testing at testing facilities, but can you quite possibly obtain the same results in real life? I’m referring to engine damage by bird ingestion. In terms of momentum, is hitting a bird (almost stationary) at high speed by a plane in motion equivalent to hitting a stationary plane with a bird that goes at the same speed of the plane? Can someone explain this to me in terms of plastic deformation, aerodynamics, physics, etc? All I learned in college were failure of machines and materials under tension, compression, and shear and torsion.

  64. Eric Auxier
    Eric Auxier Author September 23, 21:42

    That must have been quite chilling, having had that dream!
    Now that I have seen the movie, I can say that most of my hunches were correct. Further, while Director Eastwood takes “liberty” with the investigation, I believe he didn’t go too far overboard in vilifying the antagonists—i.e., the NTSB investigators.
    You bring up several interesting points about testing, not to mention “continuity,” as moviemakers call it, insofar as the engine shots go.
    I’m not bothered at all by the Director using a slightly different engine than what was actually on the plane, though they do need to stay consistent for that much-desired “continuity.”
    Engine manufacturers are required to lob a certain number of fowl through engines to test for robustness, and the NTSB report talks a little bit about that. But, I am not privy to the specifics on the test.
    Your comment does bring to mind a fun anecdote about how Mr. William Lear insisted that he sit in the pilot’s chair while firing a chicken at the cockpit window of his new Learjet. Finally, he was talked out of it, and good thing: the bird shattered the window, and embedded into the circuit breaker panel behind the Captain’s seat! It turns out that the testers had fired a FROZEN chicken through the window!
    (Note: this frozen chicken story has shown up in many variations over the years, and while Snopes claims it is “debunked,” they couldn’t specifically prove it wrong!)
    Thank you for your fascinating comment, Clara!

  65. Kim Medlin
    Kim Medlin September 28, 16:36

    The accuracy of the flight crew’s behavior may be relatively accurate in the move, but the portrayal of the flight attendants is abysmal. Case in point, after the water landing, when Sully comes out of the cockpit, the two forward flight attendants are sitting in their jump seats doing absolutely nothing — until our hero Sully sparks them into action. That’s preposterous. The flight attendants would have been evacuating that plane immediately.

  66. Eric Auxier
    Eric Auxier Author September 29, 12:37

    Good point, I didn’t even catch that. I believe the Captain’s PA stopped working, and he did have to step back to shout, “Evacuate!” But I agree, the FA’s would have already been prepping for that, and after a certain period of time (20 seconds, I believe) would have initiated the evac themselves.

    I did think it did a good job of showing the chaos of the evacuation, and also of the quick-thinking by the FA’s while getting people out. Would you agree? I’d love to hear your thoughts.


  67. Mary OLeary
    Mary OLeary October 14, 22:24

    Just saw the movie this evening. The one bit that I found weird was when Sully realizes they’re going into the river, he buckles his seatbelt and tells the FO to “brace”. Why was his seatbelt unfastened? One of my favorite tasteless jokes about this event was that when Sully walked through the aircraft after evacuation, he was actually looking for a USAtoday. Gotta be an FA to get this joke.

  68. Eric Auxier
    Eric Auxier Author October 15, 12:24

    Good catch. Actually, this may be accurate. Pilots often release their shoulder harnesses fairly quickly after takeoff, then put them back on just prior to landing. However, they’ll keep the seatbelt portion fastened the entire flight, save for breaks.

    I have heard this joke. Not tasteless, it’s funny because it’s true to life!

    Thanks for your comment, Mary!

  69. Cpt. Biggles
    Cpt. Biggles October 25, 12:12

    I hope the real hero of the story is recognised. The Airbus A320. Sully would have crashed the aircraft. It’s systems stopped him from doing so. Also he did not set the aircraft up for ditching allowing water to enter.
    The crew, like me and anyone else in their place, looked and sounded shocked. Please don’t milk it as a hero.
    Have the honesty to give credit to one of the finest aircraft ever built.

  70. Eric Auxier
    Eric Auxier Author October 26, 00:13

    Captain Biggles,
    Thank you for your comment.
    I agree, the Airbus design helped save the day. I also agree that the Ditching pushbutton had not been pushed, which would close all vents and possibly aid in helping prolong the float characteristics of the plane that day. (The Ditching Pb is called for fairly deep into the “Dual Engine Failure” Checklist; written with the assumption of a high altitude failure, the crew had no time to get through this 4-page checklist.) However, during touchdown there was a hull breach, which would have most likely rendered the Ditching Pb moot…
    While the NTSB investigation allowed that the pilot did NOT land the plane in an ideal manner for a ditching (hence resulting in the breech), it placed blame on the lack of pilot training for ditching, and even the fact that Airbus assumed one engine would be running at the time. Moreover, it determined that, without this training, it would be “nearly impossible” for a pilot to land in the ideal situation. In short, the crew did what they could do with what they had. No need to milk anything or anyone.
    As an Airbus captain, I, too, am proud of the design, and have every confidence in its “fly by wire” system that many who don’t understand find concerning. I agree, the Airbus itself contributed to the outcome that day, and I am happy to give that credit wherever it is due.
    Thanks for your great comment, Captain.

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