Our Hometown Hero, Sully Sullenberger III

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 well.

“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 Denison.

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!


60 Minutes Interview on CBS: I Was Sure I Could Do It