Denison High School graduate Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenburger III,
Class of 1969, became a national hero on Thursday, January 15, 2009
when he landed his disabled U.S. Airways jetliner in the Hudson
River, saving the lives of all 155 people on board. Early reports
indicate that a collision with multiple birds shortly after take-off
caused a massive engine failure, necessitating quick thinking and
incredible pilot skills and a whole lot of heroics on the part of
the Denison native.
As a youngster born and raised in Denison, Sullenberger got his
pilot’s license at age 14. He flew fighter jets in the Air Force in
the 1970’s before serving on a prestigious board that investigated
aircraft accidents. After that, he fulfilled a lifelong goal and
became a commercial airline pilot.
The grateful passengers aboard U.S. Airways Flight 1549 as well as
air travelers, governors, dignitaries and aviation officials
throughout the world joined New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in
praising the Denison native for his steady hand in the face of a
potentially tragic and massive crisis, noting that Sullenberger not
only saved the lives of everyone aboard his plane, but walked the
plane twice after the emergency landing to make sure everyone had
been successfully evacuated.
Dr. Henry Scott, Denison ISD superintendent, spoke with local media
about Denison’s overnight hero. Scott was a teacher at Denison High
School when Sullenburger was a student there and remembers him very
“He was a fine young man and an outstanding student,” said Scott.
“It makes you proud and makes you feel like we did some things right
when he was in school here.”
Captain Sullenburger’s father was a longtime dentist in Denison. His
mother taught school at Golden Rule. Today’s principal and counselor
at Golden Rule, Karen and Bob Sawyer, purchased their current
residence from the Sullenburger family. Reports have it that he
wanted to fly from the time he was a boy in Denison, watching
fighter jets at Perrin Field roar over his small hometown in
Jim Russell, a veteran Denison teacher and former fellow-student of
Sullenburger, remembers being fellow musicians in the Denison High
School and Junior High marching bands.
“Occasionally, he would take me up in a plane,” said Russell. “We
would fly around and just look at everything.”
Several of his childhood friends remembered him as a committed kid
with a sharp mind and strong sense of duty. Doug Hoover, a Denison
classmate, said Sullenburger’s act of heroism came as no surprise.
“I’m not surprised at all,” said Hoover. “This was his first chance
to be a hero, but he always had it in him. He would have gone down
with the ship, it that’s what it took.”
Sullenburger is a 29-year employee of U.S. Airways who now lives in
Danville, California. But to several thousand DISD Yellowjackets and
indeed the entire community of Denison, Sullenberger is a hometown
hero who has brought great pride and honor to the town in which he
was raised and educated.
Thanks, Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger, for making Denison proud!
You are, indeed, a true and wonderful hero!
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