The "Hero of the Hudson" begins his first day back on the job since saving Flight 1549

By Nicole Weisensee Egan
Updated October 01, 2009 10:30 AM
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Credit: Janis Krums/AP; inset: REUTERS/Landov

This time, Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger planned on landing on the ground – which he did.

And a large crowd was gathered at New York’s LaGuardia Airport Thursday morning to greet him, as the heroic US Airways pilot disembarked his flight from Charlotte, N.C. – while those who had been onboard cheered, whistled and applauded when he announced at the start of the journey, “Ladies and gentleman, this is Captain Sullenberger.”

“We were just thrilled,” one passenger, who didn’t wish to reveal her name, told PEOPLE. “The person next to me turned to me and said, ‘We’re going to be safe today.’ He’s one of my heroes.”

She said the flight was “the best. Smooth as could be.” It also marked the first day back on the job for Sullenberger, who saved 155 lives when he safely splash-landed the Airbus A320 he was piloting onto the Hudson River off of Manhattan after a flock of geese took out both engines.

“It’s good to be back in New York, and it’s good to be back at work,” Sully said at a press conference in LaGuardia’s Terminal C. He added that wanted to be reunited with his entire crew from Flight 1549, and while co-pilot Jeff Skiles was with him this time, the flight attendants were not.

At the press conference, Skiles referred to Sully as “the professional”s professional.”

Now a management pilot teaching safety (as well as doing regular routes), Sully, 58, is set to take off at 1 p.m. Thursday with Skiles, 39, and fly the very route he flew that day – from New York’s LaGuardia Airport to Charlotte, N.C.

But he was betting it would go better this time around.

That Fateful Flight

Sully was barely in the air three minutes on Jan. 15 when he lost power in both engines, a circumstance blamed on stray wild geese becoming lodged in the jet’s turbines. Remaining calm, he coolly landed the plane on the river.

Not only did all 155 passengers survive with only minor injuries, but the landing was so smooth some onboard said they had no idea they were on water until they looked outside.

Videos of the landing – the first successful water ditching in modern aviation history – became a YouTube sensation, and Sully was lauded by the nation and dubbed the “Hero of the Hudson.” His Facebook fan site has more than 600,000 members.

Since the accident, Sully’s written Highest Duty (due to be published Oct. 13), a book that is is both an autobiography and a personal account of the landing.

Speaking at LaGuardia about that fateful day, Sully said: “It’s changed our lives. At first it was simply overwhelming … but with the passage of time we realize that people’s gratitude is an extraordinary gift.”