It’s been 10 years since US Airways flight 1549 made an emergency landing on New York’s Hudson River. Passenger Dick Richardson and flight attendant Sheila Dail tell how team training played a major role in saving the lives of everyone on board.

It sounded like a bowling ball was thrown through the engine. Then, less than a minute later, when passenger Dick Richardson saw Flight 1549 just barely clear the George Washington Bridge, he knew the airplane was not going up in the air anymore. But he didn’t know that he was about to witness first-hand the importance of training a team.

“I [had] a window seat,” Richardson said. Just moments before the flight cleared the bridge he looked out his window. “I see the puff of smoke and I see… a big burst of flame and then more smoke and then nothing. The sound was like an explosion.”

On January 15, 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 took off from LaGuardia Airport in New York City, bound for Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina. Just after two minutes into the flight, a bird strike knocked out both the plane’s engines. Three and a half minutes later, the airplane landed in one piece in the Hudson River. All passengers survived, and thus, the flight is known as, “The Miracle on the Hudson.”

Richardson, the Owner of Experience to Lead, and Sheila Dail, a flight attendant who was on Flight 1549 and a guest speaker with Experience to Lead, saw many examples of teamwork that saved lives that day. You may wonder, “Why should I take the time to train my professional team?” Here, Richardson and Dail take us through the story of Flight 1549, and show three reasons why you can never go wrong with team training.


1. Training a Team Matches Experience with Inexperience – And Both Parties Benefit

“One of the things that is standard practice in the airline industry… they tend to pair less experienced people with more experienced people,” Richardson said. In many industries and trades, a new inexperienced employee may be matched with a seasoned employee to learn the job.

On Flight 1549, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger was matched with copilot Jeff Skiles. Skiles who had just passed his certification on that aircraft was in training under the senior experience of Captain Sully.

When the aircraft took the bird strike, Sully took control of the airplane, and he was about to ask Skiles to try to restart one of the engines. “When he looked over towards Jeff, [he] saw that Jeff already had the emergency checklist book out and was already on [that] page, and was already starting to restart the engines,” Richardson said.

The practice of matching experienced leaders with inexperienced leaders not only benefitted Skiles, it benefitted Sully. And it should be an important part of teamwork training. Skiles benefitted from Sully’s flight experience, but Sully also benefitted from Skiles’ fresh training. Skiles was following protocol before Sully had to tell him to do so.

“Have you ever taken a test and within the test when you see the question and you say, “Oh, I remember that’s from the left hand side of the textbook?’” Richardson asked. “This was Jeff Skiles…. He [said], ‘Oh, yeah, I remember that emergency engine restart is page 72. I went to page 72.’ He doesn’t have to think where do I look this up. He just passed the test.”

Match your experienced employees with inexperienced employees when team training. Your new employees will benefit from the experienced, but your seasoned employees will get a refresher too.


2. Training a Team Teaches Everyone to Do Their Jobs, Especially When It Matters Most

Captain Sully knew his airplane was headed for the Hudson, and he had to quickly communicate that information to his crew and to his passengers on the aircraft, without inciting panic.

In one brief command over the aircraft’s speakers, he accomplished his task. “Brace for impact,” he said.

As soon as he spoke that command, “He could hear the two first class flight attendants who were in the jump seats right behind him…. They started the chant that they’re supposed to be saying. That is, ‘Heads down, stay down,’” Richardson said. The flight attendants had heard Sully’s announcement and responded with the correct protocol.

According to Richardson, Sully, “said he felt a relief because he knew that that part of the team was handling everything behind the [cockpit] door. He felt like I don’t have to worry about them, [he just had] to worry about what’s on [his] side of the door, because they’re doing what they’re supposed to do.” Sully was confident when he heard his team working with him.

What are the crises that your company could one day face? Use team training to teach them their roles, so when a crisis arrives, everyone knows their part when it’s time for action.

3. Training a Team is Important for Everyone – From Your Senior Leaders to the Junior Members

We know that training was important for Captain Sully’s role in Flight 1549 — his thousands of hours of flight experience saved the integrity of the aircraft and allowed all his passengers to escape the floating aircraft.

We know that training was important for the flight attendants, too. Dail and her fellow crew members were trained to keep the passengers as safe as possible as the airplane made impact with the Hudson. They also took leadership roles in helping the passengers evacuate.

But another piece of knowledge that Dail reflected on was the training of the passengers of Flight 1549. The “junior members” of the flight, so to speak.

“I think they were experienced travelers,” she said. Because many of the passengers were business travelers who regularly make the commute from New York to Charlotte, the “passengers were experienced flyers. They had probably looked at that [emergency] card enough to know what they should do and where they were supposed to do.”

By reading and understanding the airplane’s emergency procedures, the experienced fliers on Flight 1549 knew what to do in an emergency. As soon as the airplane bobbed over the Hudson, Sully came over the speakers and said, “Evacuate.” That word was permission to go. Passengers stood up, calmly made their way toward the exits, opened emergency exit doors, and even helped each other outside.

Training a team is important at every level. The leadership on Flight 1549 – the flight crew – was trained on how to handle an emergency. If it had not been for the training of the passengers too, the evacuation may not have been as successful. By experience, they were prepared to act appropriately in the emergency.

Train Your Team for Success

The importance of training a team is loud and clear during a crisis. Many flight attendants, pilots, and passengers may never face a flight emergency. But when there is one, a trained team is much more likely to succeed than an untrained one. Flight 1549 was a dramatic example of how teamwork paid off big time, but many corporations face crises too. Is your team prepared? Train your team so when the unexpected occurs, your team gets through it as successfully as Flight 1549.

How would your team fair in a crisis? Experience to Lead’s “Brace For Impact” program takes you to the Carolinas Aviation museum to visit the miracle Airbus A320 that landed on the Hudson. But the program is more than the story.  It is real training for you and your team for when the unexpected, unplanned, and unpredictable comes your way.