January 20, 2009

What Makes a Hero?

An interesting point was made at VFR. Lawrence Auster asked:
Was Capt. Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger III's safe landing of US Airways flight 1549 in the Hudson River an exceptional accomplishment, even a miracle, as many believe, or, as a correspondent has put it, the outcome that would be expected of a typical, experienced airline pilot? To answer the question, we need to strip the situation down to its essentials, leaving only the water landing itself. That is, we need to eliminate the initial shock experienced by the flight crew when the flock of Canadian geese collided with the plane and destroyed the engines; eliminate the uncertainty about whether to turn back to La Guardia; eliminate the pilot's sighting of Teterboro airport in New Jersey and the discussion about whether to try to land there; eliminate the plane's curve from a northern to an eastern to a southerly course to head down the Hudson; and eliminate the challenge of keeping the engineless plane aloft long enough to maneuver it over the Hudson.

Once we've gotten rid of all those factors, we're left with this "pure" scenario: An airliner has just taken off and climbed to 3,000 feet and both its engines go out. It has several miles of a mile-wide, relatively calm river in front of it. Under those circumstances, what kind of landing would be expected? Would the smooth landing that Capt. Sullenberger achieved, with the plane left floating intact on the water, be the expected norm, or would it be very unusual?
Auster regards
...the talk about "heroism" in this and so many other cases as the hysteria of the dopey and lazy press.
Although there is a lot of merit in this opinion, I think it is just one angle from which one can see the remarkable event on the Hudson.

I do not think that one should strip the immediate understanding of the situation in a shock situation and the following lightning quick decisionmaking from the event. It was as important as the landing itself which was, indeed, "only" what can be expected from a fully trained pilot of that calibre. Still, Sullenberger was not a hero. Heroism needs, so I think, some ethical component which is lacking here. But then, to go back and search the sinking aircraft again and again to make sure that nobody was left behind has an element of heroism. John Maynard, and those for whom that fictitious character stands, are heroes. The British fighter pilot who crash landed his jet in an open field when he could have saved himself by the ejection seat at the peril of having the abandoned jet crashing into a village was a hero. That happened about 40 years ago in Eastern Westphalia and I have never forgotten it, although there was only a minor notice in our regional newspaper.

To me this is another instance of the somewhat natural reaction to a feminized world of mediocrity, self-centeredness, bitching and complaining, where a difficult job superbly performed must appear as heroism. What a "pilotesse" suffering from PMS or post-menopausal complaints would have done in Sullenberger's place I hate to think. We are so starved of heroes that any politically correct, widely accepted instance remotely touching heroism will trigger off a deluge of admiration.

An interesting bit of insight into the mind of one from that remarkable class of men gives the interviewwith Jürgen Vietor, the first officer of the legendary flight LH 181. In 1977, during the "German Autumn", after the cold-blooded murder of his captain by Arab terrorists at Aden, Yemen, the young first officer (like Sullenberger a former military pilot) had to fly the 737, which had just undergone a gruelling emergency landing, solo to land safely at Mogadishu, Somalia, an airport, that had before, literally and metaphorically, not been on his, a Boeing 737 pilot's, map. Vietor is adamant that he is no hero. Maybe not, but anyway, I strongly oppose his definition of what makes a hero. HERE is the interview.

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