Photos by Michele
Jeff Skiles talks to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh visitors during a
forum on Wednesday.
July 29, 2009 - Oshkosh, Wisconsin
Jeff Skiles says he remembers thinking it was
a nice day on January 15, 2009, when he took off in an Airbus A320
airliner from New York's LaGuardia Airport. Skiles was first officer of US
Airways flight 1549 that morning, and on Wednesday he explained to
visitors in the EAA AirVenture Museum how he felt five minutes later when
he and Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger landed the airliner in
the Hudson River in New York City.
"My heart was racing," Skiles
told the crowd. "I couldn't catch my breath. I was scared, and I
don't mind telling you about it… and that was just when I was being
interviewed on 60 Minutes!"
All 155 people aboard the aircraft
Skiles began his career with US Airways in
1986 and has more than 20,000 flight hours. A resident of Oregon,
Wisconsin, he began attending the EAA fly-in convention with his parents
(also pilots) when it was in Rockford, Illinois, in the 1960s. He says he
always wanted to be a pilot, and after college (where he earned a
bachelor's degree in geology) he found work as a cargo pilot, and then
with a commuter airline before he was hired by US Airways.
The A320 was his fifth Airbus type rating,
and he had just completed training for that aircraft the week before. He
had only met Sully three days before this flight, the final flight of
their four-day trip.
"This wasn't unusual in our
business," Skiles said. "It is our training and procedures that
allow us to act as a team."
Skiles performed the takeoff that morning
and remembers Sully remarking about the beautiful view of the Hudson that
day. He says he saw the flock of geese out past the nose and was shocked,
but felt relief as he watched them descend.
"They hit the aircraft like
hail," he said.
That was two minutes into the flight, which
only lasted a total of 5.5 minutes from takeoff to splash down. What
happened next made headlines around the world, as Sully took the controls
and Skiles began running checklists to restart the engines. Minutes later,
the plane was in the Hudson, rescue boats were on their way, and the crew
was helping passengers into the water.
The last people out of the airplane were
Sully and Skiles.
Both Skiles and Sullenberger will be giving
presentations on flight 1549 at 1 p.m. Thursday at the Honda Forums
Mainstage, and Friday evening at Theater in the Woods with host David