3 Things I Took Away from the Movie, Sully (with Tom Hanks)
Kitty Boitnott, Ph.D., NBCT, RScP
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I went to see the movie, Sully, yesterday. In case you are not aware, this is a new movie starring Tom Hanks, recounting the miraculous landing of that huge jet airliner in the icy waters of the Hudson River on January 15, 2009. Most of you will probably remember the incident. The movie takes you into the back story, and Tom Hanks, as always, does a fabulous great job bringing alive a character who struggles with the enormity of the event that has just taken place and the ensuing investigation.
I won't provide any spoilers for you...I just recommend it as a great story and one I think you might enjoy.
What I would like to share with you are the 3 things I took away from watching the movie this weekend.
(1) Miracles do happen. The story in the movie is the same story that occurred in real life on January 15, 2009. On a cold day at LaGuardia Airport, 150 strangers stepped onto a jet airliner destined for Charlotte, North Carolina, the airline's hub, and then they would be off to their various and sundry destinations from there. The movie couldn't highlight everyone on the airplane, of course. Indeed, there may have been some poetic license to make it a better story/movie, but in the movie plot, there were family members traveling together. Some were in different parts of the plane, and there were a couple of babies aboard. The flight starts out routinely with everyone getting settled in and the flight attendants going through their standard procedure of advising everyone to look at the card in the pocket in front of them in order to familiarize themselves with the safety procedures and what to do in the event of an emergency. Of course, no one looks. As regular fliers, most people tune out this litany of what to do...it seems like such a waste of time. What can go wrong?
Of course, things do start to go wrong just moments after take off. Birds--lots of them--fly head on into the plane's engines and knocks them out. They would have been able to continue safely back to the airport if they had had at least one engine but both were out. After a few minutes of checking all of the instruments on the flight dashboard, Chesley Sullenberger, the pilot (also known as Sully) called in a Mayday and asked for permission for an emergency landing.
He got clearance for a runway at two airports, but as the plane began its inevitable descent--gravity will do that--Sully had to make some pretty quick calculations. As an experienced pilot, he knew exactly what would happen if he continued on route to either airport...he would wind up taking out several skyscrapers and hundreds of people in addition to the 155 souls on board his airplane. In a quick decision, he made for the river. He missed hitting a bridge by not a lot of distance and landed the plane on the river where it came to a rest floating atop the icy waters.
You know what happened after that. Passengers evacuated the plane and waited for the tug boats that were only minutes away, thankfully, and while a few people were hurt, none of the injuries were life-threatening, and no one was killed. I call that a miracle.
(2) Timing is everything. While the mishap was being investigated, in the movie, Sully did a lot of soul-searching, wondering if he had been wrong in making his calculations to land on the water instead of heading to the airport. His judgment was questioned by the National Transporation Safety Board (NTSB), and according to them, computer simulations had indicated that he would have been able to get the airplane back to the airport. As the story evolved, however, Sully asked them to factor in the time that it would have taken for him to fully assess the situation as opposed to recognizing that birds had hit the engines and then immediately heading back to the airport. The investigators had failed to take into account the precious seconds that were taken up by the pilot assessing the entire situation and then making a decision regarding what needed to be done. When accounting for the extra moments it took in order to realize what had happened and take appropriate action, the computer simulations no longer indicated that he could have made it back to the airport. Accounting for timing made the difference between what is automatic and what people in real life situations have to do when caught in the moment unawares, facing a critical set of decisions that can make the difference between life and death.
In our everyday lives, timing can also be critical to the decisions that we make a thousand times a day. Not accounting for timing can lead to sometimes disastrous results.
(3) Human experience will trump computer models and simulations any day, every day. Perhaps my biggest takeaway was that human experience...the experience of a pilot with 42 years of experience flying every kind of airplane there is...trumps computer models and simulations any day of the week. In the movie, the NTSB investigators were tied to their faith in their computer models that they were discounting the miracle that had happened and the fact that Chesley Sullenberger had saved 155 lives...including his own...not only with quick thinking but action based on years of experience.
It occurs to me that as we become more and more embroiled with our computers and Smartphones and computer models and simulations, we tend not to trust human experience as much as we used to, and that is because sometimes human beings make mistakes. We all know that. But this story illustrates that sometimes human experience does, in fact, win the day. It is something we all need to be reminded of because we can start to put too much faith in machines and not enough faith, perhaps, in human experience and expertise.
I enjoyed this movie a lot even though I silently balled throughout about a quarter of it. I remembered that day in January of 2009 like it was yesterday. I remember that at the same time, we were about to inaugurate the first African-American President of the United States, and the economy was crashing around our ears. I remember thinking that we needed a miracle like that just then. And it felt like a miracle then just like it felt to me in the movie.
If you like movies, I recommend this one for you. You may take away other lessons, or you just may enjoy the story. As a fan of Tom Hanks, I enjoyed his performance very much. If you aren't a Tom Hanks fan, that won't be the appeal for you. But it was a good story and a reminder, at least for me of the three things I have mentioned above: miracles can happen; timing is everything; and human experience will trump computer models and simulations any day, every day.
Until next time.