Case Study in Decision Making: Sullenberger US Flight 1549

Why Sometimes Solutions Aren’t Apparent Until Faced with the Problem

On the descent from 20,000 ft during a recent business trip to New York City, I had a beautiful view of the Manhattan and the Hudson and East Rivers.  As we were descending, I thought about the different perspective Sully Sullenberger had when he made that amazing final flight of US 1549.  I had always thought of landing in the Hudson as extremely wreckless – there would be boats, bridges, you would have to navigate the skyline of New York, etc.  On my decent, however, I realized that his view of the problem and possible solutions was much different.

The map below shows how many of us visualize New York – from a street map. Overlaid is the flight path of US 1549 from take-off to the decision point.  This is the point a few seconds after the actual strike when Sullenberger needed to decide what he was going to do.

The choices were to return to LaGuardia, find an alternative airport (e.g. Teterboro in NJ) or ditch the plane, presumably in the Hudson.  Looking at this map, it looks like the Hudson is not a particularly good choice – lots of bridges and possible traffic.

On my decent into LaGuardia, I noticed that I had misrepresented the Hudson in my mind – I had envisioned it as the map above. In reality, those are tunnels – not bridges!