Sully is Fiction

Kevin Drum has a short post noting that Trump has taught other Republican politicians how to lie more brazenly. Politicians have never been noted for their honesty, but we are seeing something new this time around. It is very aggravating that Trump simply makes it up as he goes along, while Clinton is the one endlessly on the defensive about her honesty.

Relax, this is not going to be another election post. Instead I want to direct your attention to this article, from Slate. Compared to the daily calumnies emanating from our freak-show election, it is extremely small potatoes. And yet for some reason it has been bothering me for several days now.

The article is a review of the film Sully, directed by Clint Eastwood. Fair warning: Major spoilers ahead.

The real story of Sully is short and simple. Shortly after its take-off from LaGuardia Airport, a plane had a run-in with some geese. This resulted in engine failure, forcing the pilots to make an emergency landing. The pilot, Chesley Sullenberger, determined that they would not be able to return to the airport runway. He landed the plane in the only place he could find, which was the Hudson River. Everyone got out safely. The National Transportation Safety Board did a routine investigation that quickly exonerated Sullenberger of any wrongdoing. The end.

That doesn't make for much of a movie, so Eastwood simply made up a different story. Slate's Forrest Wickman summarizes the results:

But the conflict Sully invents is a fantasy that aligns itself with some of the dumbest and most dangerous ideas of our era. By making an enemy of bureaucrats, experts, and “facts,” Eastwood has made the perfect movie for the year of the Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump.

Here's the key part of the article:

Still, the flight, even seen from multiple perspectives, makes up only a small portion of the film, and the rest is about one thing: The wizened old salt-of-the-earth pilot Sully (played by Hollywood’s favorite so-called everyman, Tom Hanks) vs. the National Transportation Safety Board, government regulatory eggheads who have the gall to conduct a standard investigation of a major aeronautic incident.* Sully, the hero, defends the wisdom of his gut, developed over the course of 40 years of piloting. The movie makes a villain of the technocrats with their scientific method and their acronyms (“QRH”? “APV”?) and their newfangled computer simulations, which they use to suggest that Sully could have landed the hobbled jetliner on a nearby runway instead of setting down in an icy river. (“They're playing Pac-Man and we’re flying a plane full of human beings,” Aaron Eckhart's co-pilot growls, through his matching Sully-esque moustache.)

This conflict reaches its climax in a scene that’s completely, well, trumped-up. Sully prevails by requesting that the NTSB redo the simulations while making one crucial adjustment: The pilots must wait 35 seconds before turning toward one of the nearest airports, in an approximation of the time it might take to assess the situation and make a decision. Sure enough, the test pilots all lose altitude too quickly and go down in deadly crashes just short of their landing strips. It’s a satisfying dramatic conclusion, but it's pure fiction: In real life, it was the NTSB, not Sully, that suggested adding the 35 seconds.

Go back to the original for links.

Really savor that final sentence for the moment. Eastwood did not simply make something up for dramatic effect. Instead he presented the exact opposite of what actually happened, for the purpose of demonizing real people who did not deserve to be demonized.

How sick do you have to be to do that? How devoid of conscience do you have to be to even think of such a thing?

Eastwood is well-known for his right-wing politics. As has become clear from Trump and his many supporters, the political Right in this country has no conscience, and cares nothing about facts or reality.

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the political Right in this country has no conscience

It is time for them to be purged?

By Valhar2000 (not verified) on 19 Sep 2016 #permalink

Valhar2000, wtf?

The minute I heard the accident investigators were made into villains for this film, I decided not to see it.

Airplane accident investigations are not, and have never been, about finding out a guilty party to hang the responsibility on. Rather the purpose is to 1) find out what happened, 2 ) find out how it happened, 3) find out why it happened, 4) determine how to keep it from happening again.

In the case of the US Airways flight, some important recommendations were issued. For example, Airbus dual-engine failure checklist is so long, the plane would have crashed had the pilots gone through it. Why? Because it assumes loss of both engines at cruising altitude, where there are many minutes of glide time available to figure things out. The NTSB recommended a shorter low-altitude checklist, which could be done quickly.

Also, while simulations were run, at best 53% of pilots managed to reach the runway at LaGuardia. 47% crashed en-route. The hell they would criticize a crew for opting not to endanger their passengers and countless people on the very densely populate ground.

One more thing. There are always two pilots in the cockpit of a commercial flight. While only one has the main controls at once, they share the workload at all times. As a result of previous accidents, a management system called "Cockpit Resource Management" was developed. This allows both pilots to efficiently coordinate actions and exchange information as and when needed. Virtually all crews in the world are trained on it. And it was in large part the good CRM used by the crew that allowed them to land safely.

So in a way the accident investigators of every country who've worked for decades deciphering the causes of aircraft accidents, had as much to do indirectly with saving the plane, the passengers, the crew, and the unsuspecting people on the ground, as the pilots did directly.

He landed the plane in the only place he could find, which was the Hudson River.

Sullenberger was offered a diversion to Teterboro, just the other side of the George Washington Bridge, but declined it for the same reason he declined the return to LaGuardia. Both LGA and TEB are surrounded by areas with high population density, leaving him no margin for error. TEB is actually worse: LGA borders Flushing Bay, so it still offered a ditching opportunity if he couldn't make it. But the Hudson gave him much more room for error.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 20 Sep 2016 #permalink

The "Mayday" series did an episode on this accident. Watch it, not the movie.

Im guessing Sullenbergers comment about not praying while landing the plane didn't make the movie ?

By Deepak Shetty (not verified) on 23 Sep 2016 #permalink

Thanks for the warning. I thought the Trailer looked a little fishy (no pun intended).

I didn't expect any better from Clint Eastwood, but I did from Tom Hanks. There's another illusion shot to heck.