Despite his miraculous landing of US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River last month, Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger III was tormented by ‘what ifs’ the first two weeks after the crash, he tells PEOPLE for its new cover story.
“I was glad the NTSB [National Transportation Safety Board] investigation matched our perception of what happened because we didn’t have much time to analyze the situation,” he says. “I was relieved when I found out we’d done everything we could do.”
The Airbus A320 was about 90 seconds into its flight from New York’s LaGuardia Airport on Jan. 15 when a flock of geese pounded the windshield and knocked out both engines.
“I knew the situation was bad immediately,” says Sullenberger, 58.
After calmly telling air-traffic controllers he was unable to return to LaGuardia and could not make it to a nearby airport in Teterboro, N.J., he knew his only option was the Hudson River. “I knew I could make a successful water landing,” he says. And he did.
After the plane stopped, says Sullenberger, he and co-pilot Jeffrey Skiles looked at each other and said, ” ‘Well, that wasn’t as bad as I thought,’ meaning it was more like a normal landing than it should have been.”
All 155 aboard survived, but Sullenberger says he suffers flashbacks and is not quite ready to go back to work yet.
“In hindsight,” he says, “I think something remarkable did happen that day.”
For more on this story, including amazing accounts of survival from the passengers and crew, and Sullenberger’s own account of what went wrong on Flight 1549, pick up PEOPLE on newsstands Friday