Capt. ‘Sully’ Sullenberger reunites with NYPD divers 15 years after ‘Miracle on the Hudson’

Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot who improbably guided US Airways Flight 1549 to a safe landing in the Hudson River on Jan. 15, 2009 after it struck a flock of birds, has reunited with the New York Police Department divers who aided in the rescue.

Now known as the “Miracle on the Hudson,” Sullenberger recalled the dramatic experience of being in the air for under two minutes when he hit the birds, causing the plane to lose power and catch fire. He got on his radio and said he was turning back to New York’s LaGuardia Airport, while NYPD’s Elite SCUBA team listened in on the radio to piece together what was happening.

Sullenberger quickly realized he wouldn’t be able to get back to the airport.

It turned out we didn’t have enough altitude or speed to either return to LaGuardia or to go across the river to Teterboro, New Jersey,” he told TODAY’s Craig Melvin in a segment that aired Jan. 11.

The result? He was going to land in the Hudson River.

“So, I chose the least bad option, and I was very glad to have it,” he said.

While Sullenberger braced for a dramatic landing, the SCUBA team piled into a chopper.

“When we got closer and we were able to read ‘US Airways,’ now we know this is a big aircraft that had a catastrophic problem,” diver Michael Hendrix said.

When divers spotted a woman in the 36-degree water, Michael Delaney, who was a detective at the time, got to work.

“She was panicking,” he said. “And I just tried to calm her down. My first initial thought was to introduce myself to her. I said, ‘Hi, I’m Michael. I’m going to get you out of here.”

Delaney and fellow detective Robert Rodriguez rescued the woman and another passenger and thought other people were still trapped in the plane, certain there had been casualties.

“When I went in the plane and I started swimming a bit, I was running into objects that were submerged that I thought were bodies, but it was, in fact, luggage,” Rodriguez said.

Sullenberger, however, had done his due diligence to confirm all 150 passengers were no longer on the aircraft.

“I went through the airplane from front to back twice just to make doubly sure that there was no one left behind,” he said.

Rodriguez said Sullenberger’s actions were unbelievably courageous.

“The respect for Chesley was up here and never wavered,” he said.

Sullenberger was also quick to give the divers their credit.

“They saved people who could have floated away and drowned almost unnoticed otherwise. And I was very concerned about that,” he said.

Now, 15 years later, Sullenberger reunited with Hendrix, Delaney and Rodriguez on TODAY.

“Thank you for everything you did for us that day,” Sullenberger said. 

“I think if we had 20 opportunities to do it all over again, it wouldn’t have gone as good as the first time we did it,” Delaney said.

“It’s probably the first time, collectively, a bunch of people from different industries did a gut check, and said, ‘I’m going to act bravely in this moment,’” Rodriguez said.

“I know I had some fear in the helicopter that day, but I said, ‘This is what you’ve been tasked to do. This is your job, so swallow it and try to save whomever you can.”

For Sullenberger, he remains indebted to the team effort that helped avert disaster.

“A lot of first responders from that day pitched in to make it their mission to save every life. And fortunately we did,” he said.