Investigators say ‘Sully’ movie gets it wrong


Crash investigators with the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) are frustrated at having been cast as Hollywood villains in the film Sully, which opened this week.

‘From what I hear, this is somewhere between Sharknado 2 and Sharknado 3,’ retired NTSB investigator Robert Benzon, told Bloomberg News. ‘I just hope it isn’t as bad as everyone is telling me it is.’

The film deals with the water landing of US Airways flight 1549 in the Hudson River, New York, on January 15, 2009 after a bird strike at about 2800 feet. All on board survived the accident, and the pilot, Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger, was widely praised.

The movie’s official website says: ‘Even as Sully was being heralded by the public and the media for his unprecedented feat of aviation skill, an investigation was unfolding that threatened to destroy his reputation and his career.’

The films shows government investigators asking why Sullenberger did not return to La Guardia airport, as simulation had shown was possible if an immediate turn back were made. The real NTSB investigation said:

‘The one simulator flight that took into account real-world considerations … was not successful. Therefore, the NTSB concludes that the captain’s decision to ditch on the Hudson River rather than attempting to land at an airport provided the highest probability that the accident would be survivable.’

NTSB investigator Malcolm Brenner, who, like Benzon worked on the flight 1549 investigation, told Bloomberg, ‘ There was no effort to crucify him or embarrass him. If there were questions, it was to learn things.’

Brenner said the two pilots had worked well together and made good decisions. ‘I personally was very impressed,’ he said.

Actor Aaron Eckhart, who plays first officer Jeffrey Skiles conceded there was no basis for the portrayal of the investigation as a witch-hunt. He told film writer Tim Lammers, ‘One hundred per cent, Sully did not see the NTSB as adversarial. He said they’re doing their job. They’re a necessary part of keeping us safe.’


  1. By now I think most people who actually read for discernment know that the movie industry, much like the ‘news’ industry are not investing billions of (name the currency) with the intent to either educate or inform. And the certainly do not exist to create anything that might resemble an accurate chronicle, aka “history”. Follow the money remains the most likely tool to learn actual motivations. That and political agendas. So sad, yet so true.

  2. I have held an Unrestricted Pilot’s Licence since 1976 and find it astonishing there could have been any suggestion that this heavily laden aircraft should have returned to the airport for a forced landing, particularly at such a low altitude. Maybe it would have been possible in a Cessna but throughout my flight training, I was repeatedly told never attempt to return to the airport of departure with an engine failure at or soon after takeoff ever and to look for a suitable landing area straight ahead or close to it and my Chief Flying Instructor was considered to one of the three best in Australia at the time.

    • Absolutely spot on. Pre flight self brief, engine failure after take off “I will not turn back”

  3. Also what a full fuel load remaining would create a heavy landing situation on return to the airport?

  4. Anybody who thinks it is the correct thing to turn back after an engine failure after takeoff only has to look at the results of GARUDA DC10 in Japan in 1996.

  5. Sully has flown gliders not mentioned in the movie we can see we can’t make it by the low angle. Everyone did a fantastic job that day Sully said that lives were saved by the boat captains and the flight crew and the passengers on board. Good on him. No one to blame but the Canadian goose.

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