Methodist Church

United Methodist Church nurtured Hudson River hero pilot

PLANO (Texas) – His Sunday school teacher 50 years ago at Waples Memorial United Methodist Church in Denison, Texas, remembers him as Chesley.

His sister refers to him by his middle name, Burnett. A prominent woman clergy member of the United Methodist North Texas Annual Conference knew him as Burney, her rival for first-chair flute in the Denison High School band.

Since Jan 15, 2009, much of the world knows him as the pilot of “The Miracle on the Hudson” – the pilot who made a successful emergency landing of US Airways Flight 1549 in New York’s Hudson River with no loss of life.

Capt. Chesley Burnett Sullenberger III and his four-person crew were given keys to New York City by Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Feb 9, a day after “60 Minutes” on CBS broadcast the crew’s first televised interview. Crew members were also cheered as heroes during the Feb 1 pre-game ceremonies for Super Bowl XLIII.

On Jan 23 – coincidentally, her brother’s 58th birthday – Mary Wilson welcomed two journalists into her comfortable Plano, Texas, home – one from her family’s church, Christ United Methodist Church in Plano, and the other from the conference newspaper.

Mary, two years younger than Capt. Sullenberger, was savouring a comparative respite from the media blitz that surged into her life after word got out that she was a hero’s sibling.

She shared her mother’s scrapbook, along with other family photos and documents; gave unhurried, temperate responses to questions she had answered many times; and, at the request of the church journalists, offered insights into the Sullenberger family.

Mary and Capt. Sullenberger were born in Denison, as were their parents – Chesley Burnett Sullenberger, Jr and Pauline Hanna Sullenberger – and both sets of grandparents – Russell Samuel Hanna and Kate Whitehurst Hanna (maternal) and Chesley Burnett Sullenberger and Florence Burge Sullen Berger (paternal).

The Hannas were members of St Luke’s Episcopal Church in Denison.

The scrapbook yielded, among other jewels, Capt. Sullenberger’s certificate of church membership. Mother Pauline Sullenberger taught for several years in the Waples day school.

Another recollection comes from one of his Denison contemporaries, the Rev Carole Somers-Clark, Vice-President of Pastoral Services for the Dallas-based Methodist Health System. They attended most of junior high and high school together, although her family moved away during 10th and 11th grades.

After graduation, Capt. Sullenberger flew for the Air Force for six or seven years, then took his first job as a commercial pilot in 1980 with Pacific Southwest Airlines.

That line merged into US Airways, for whom he was flying on Jan 15. – United Methodist News Service.

John A. Lovelace is Editor Emeritus of the Dallas-based United Methodist Reporter.