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On January 15, 2009, U.S. Airways Flight 1549 took off from LaGuardia airport in New York, bound for Charlotte/Douglas International Airport in North Carolina with 155 people on board. Less than a minute after takeoff, the aircraft hit a flock of Canadian geese, causing dual engine loss at only 2,800 feet. It’s believed that no other jet in history has suffered a loss of both engines at such low altitude. Added to the unprecedented nature of the event was the fact that turning for the nearest airport — Teterboro — would have taken the plane over a densely populated area of northern New Jersey, with possibly catastrophic consequences if the pilots were unable to reach their target. So, the plane’s captain made a series of split-second decisions, taking over the controls from his co-pilot and informing air traffic control that they were likely going to attempt an emergency water landing in the Hudson River.

The nation watched in awe as a real-time story of heroism unfolded, the star of which was clearly lead pilot Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger — a man who instantly became an American icon because he stoically made a hard call at a moment’s notice. Sully was quickly proclaimed the “Hero of the Hudson” by media and dubbed “Captain Cool” for his poise during the crisis.

As the public watched the inspiring tale of Flight 1549 unfold on the news, another story was taking place behind the scenes: an investigation was launched to determine the exact causes of the event, scrutinize the decisions made by the plane’s crew, and even probe the personal life and decision-making capabilities of the man who had been at the controls. As part of this investigation, pilots ran simulations that recreated the conditions of the event, and they were consistently able to guide the craft to the airport, despite Sully maintaining that the plane was “too low and too slow” to make it.

The untold story of the “Miracle on the Hudson” is the personal turmoil Captain Sullenberger endured in the days and weeks following the emergency landing in the river, as an investigation that threatened to destroy his reputation and career also forced him to doubt himself and his decisions. Sully wrestles with the question of whether he made the right call and saved all those on board or was unnecessarily cavalier, gambling the lives of everyone in his care on a decision he didn’t have to make. Whatever the conclusion, he knows that despite spending 40 years of his life in the air, in the end, it will be his actions in those three and a half minutes of chaos that end up defining him.

“Sully” is helmed by Oscar-winning director Clint Eastwood (“American Sniper,” “Million Dollar Baby”) and based on the autobiography Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters by Sullenberger and Jeffrey Zaslow.

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