Logo for Sully on DStv

Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney

The true story of the events of Jan. 15, 2009, when Capt. Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger was forced to make an emergency landing in New York's Hudson River after US Airways Flight 1549 struck a flock of geese within moments of take-off from La Guardia airport. Miraculously, all 155 passengers and crew survived the harrowing ordeal, Sullenberger became a national hero in the eyes of the public and the media and the event was christened ‘The Miracle on the Hudson’. Despite the accolades, the famed pilot faced an investigation that threatened to destroy his career and reputation.


The film is based on Sullenberger’s autobiography, ‘Highest Duty’ and subsequently adapted into a screenplay in 2010. Screenwriter Todd Komarnicki said the difficulty was not depicting the landing in the river, but the investigation afterwards. “It wasn't really a challenge of what to do with the event since that is the thing everyone knows about - it was more about how you parse out the information about the man slowly falling apart and becoming a hero in the eyes of the world when internally, and with the investigators, it was actually seemingly going the other way”.


Watching his life unfold on the big screen was emotional for Sullenberger. He and his family saw the film at a pre-release screening and said it took them several hours to put what they were feeling, into words. “We saw it in Burbank, and then we flew back to San Francisco, and when we were home having dinner, my younger daughter said, after some period of silence: ‘are we going to talk about this or what?’ So we did. We had the most wonderful, touching and, in some cases, humorous discussion about it,” he says.


Accuracy of the events of the day and the flight details were important to Sullenberger. “Everyone worked hard to get it right. The granularity was amazing to me. They wanted to know: ‘what are your rings like?’, ‘What kind of watch do you wear?’, ‘When you sit down in the cockpit do you take off your jacket and loosen your tie?’”, he says. “I even had Clint, Tom and Aaron in a flight simulator with me to familiarise themselves with the dynamic of the cockpit. The flying sequence in the film is very realistic”.


Director Clint Eastwood believes there’s still a place for everyday heroes like Sully on the big screen, alongside caped superheroes with magic powers. “I don’t know how everybody else feels, but I just long for reality rather than these made-up things,” he says. “When I was a kid, I remember the first Batman, the first Superman comic books when they came out, thinking how great that was and wouldn’t it be great to see a movie like that. They did some cheap serials, but they’re not the same as today. But I think younger audiences would like to see a real hero also.


Aaron Eckhardt, who plays Sullenberger’s co-pilot Jeff Skiles says that Playing a real person is daunting – especially if they’re still alive. “They have to live with the results of your efforts,” he says. “There are some people on Earth who are only going to know Sully as Tom Hanks. And Jeff Skiles, certainly, as me. Now that’s a big responsibility. Jeff still flies. I want people to come up to Jeff and go, ‘hey, that was an awesome movie’.”