A story few people are aware of—one director Clint Eastwood himself may have long ago forgotten, but which connects him in a unique way with the subject matter of “Sully” —came to light when working on the film.
As a young man of 21 in the Army, Eastwood was a passenger on a Navy plane, “catching a free flight from Seattle down to Alameda,” he relates. “It was stormy and we went down off of Point Reyes, California, in the Pacific, and I found myself in the water, swimming a few miles toward shore, thinking, ‘Well, 21’s not as long as a person wants to live.’”
Producer, and Eastwood’s longtime production manager, Tim Moore states, “What’s remarkable is that Clint remembers exactly how the landing was—that the back end went down and they had to get out pretty fast because they thought it was going to sink quickly, and they just started swimming. While I don’t think that was a factor in picking this film, I think the commonalities brought back a lot of memories; it’s certainly interesting that this project found its way to him.”
Though he doesn’t equate his experience with that of the passengers and crew on flight 1549, it did provide a certain perspective for one preparing to direct Sully’s story. “I suppose having been in a similar situation,” Eastwood surmises, “as a pilot I would have chanced a water landing rather than go someplace there’s no runway.”
In the film, moments after takeoff from New York’s LaGuardia Airport, a flock of birds strikes US Airways flight 1549, taking out both engines at only 2800 feet and causing an immediate, forced water landing. It is, we will learn, unprecedented. “No one has ever trained for an incident like that,” notes Tom Hanks, speaking as the titular Captain Chesley Sullenberger in “Sully.”
Recounting the real events that took place on that cold day in January 2009, the film also explores their very real aftermath. The plane carried 150 passengers and five crew members, yet not a single life was lost—not in the air, not in the water. But as “Sully” reveals, in the days following what quickly came to be known as the Miracle on the Hudson, the pilot with a record of proficiency, years of experience, and calm in the face of potential catastrophe, would be called upon repeatedly to defend his actions to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
It was that part of the story, the one the world didn’t know, that drew Eastwood to the project. “Anybody who keeps their wits about them when things are going wrong, who can negotiate the problems without panicking, is someone of superior character and interesting to watch on film. But for me, the real conflict came after, with the investigative board questioning his decisions even though he’d saved so many lives.”
“I’m not an aviator,” says Hanks, “but I know you’re not supposed to be able to make a landing like that. This was a very pragmatic man who understood the realities of what he’d done and what it meant. He will never say he’s a hero, but knowing with confidence that he could make that landing? That was a heroic thing he did. And he paid a price for it.”
That cost was exacted both during the day, when he and his co-pilot, Jeff Skiles, were being interrogated by the investigative board, and at night, when Sully was haunted by nightmares about what could have happened—what very well might have happened—had he turned that plane around in search of a less watery airfield.
“It was the least bad option,” the man himself, Capt. Sullenberger, states. Having lost thrust in both engines of the A320, he quickly determined that the Hudson River, which runs between New Jersey and Manhattan’s West Side, was their best bet. “There was nowhere else in the entire New York Metropolitan area long enough, wide enough, or smooth enough to land an airliner.”
Opening across the Philippines on Thursday, September 8, 2016 in IMAX and regular cinemas, “Sully” is distributed worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company.