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A Tour Around Charlotte's 'Miracle On The Hudson'

The film Sully is now out in theaters. Tom Hanks portrays Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, the pilot of an Airbus A320 which departed from New York headed for Charlotte on January 15, 2009. Shortly after takeoff, geese struck the engines causing them to fail…so Sully had to make an important decision: to use the landing strip in front of him.

The movie recounts the events of that fateful day, and the investigation that followed.  

Although the miracle on the Hudson took place in northern waters you don’t have to leave Charlotte to visit one of the stars of the film. WFAE’s Sarah Delia has this story.

You could spend a morning weaving in and out of the military and civil aircraft grounded in the Carolinas Aviation Museum. The hanger where they are housed has large fans on high to keep the air circulating, so it can be a little noisy. But get closer to the back of the hanger where the 70 ton Airbus A320 is on permanent display and there’s that sense of quiet in the air that only comes with being a bit…star struck.

Wally Coppinger
Credit Tom Bullock / WFAE
Wally Coppinger

The museum’s Executive Director Wally Coppinger says he does have to reassure people that this is the actual plane that landed in the Hudson. Miracles are a lot to take in after all.

Facing the plane in such a calm setting, it takes a moment to fully appreciate what’s in front of you. 155 people were fighting for their lives, first to survive the impact of the water landing and second to get out of the chilling water that was quickly filling the plane.

Because the plane is treated like an artifact, no one is allowed inside the plane with exception of staff for maintenance. The crew and passengers of Flight 1549 have had opportunities to come back aboard the plane as well.

It may sound disappointing to not experience the inside of the cabin, but the documentation of the plane’s history is on the outside. They left all the markings and numbers on the plane that came from the NTSB investigation. 

All these markings, from the dents due to water impact to the scribbling of the NTSB investigation, are scars on the plane that not only document the emergency landing but show through all this, the majority of the plane stands, waiting for visitors to bare witness to its story.

And since the release of the Sully trailer, Coppinger has definitely noticed an increase in visitors.

"We've been around a long time, we're the best kept secret in Charlotte. We do have this amazing plane along with all the others and people are finding out about it and realizing it's in Charlotte...and they are coming out in droves to see it," Coppinger said. 

"We always said flight 1549 finally arrived in Charlotte, a few years late but it finally made it home."

  And in a way, it’s a bit of a miracle that the plane ended up in Charlotte in 2011. There were a couple of other institutions it was offered to first including the Smithsonian in DC, Coppinger says. But for so many reasons, Charlotte was the perfect landing place.

"The plane was bound for Charlotte that cold January morning it was based here in Charlotte. We were US Airways at the time, largest hub city. The flight crew was based here in Charlotte, over half of the passengers were from the Charlotte area so it just seem fitting that it come home to Charlotte. We always said flight 1549 finally arrived in Charlotte, a few years late but it finally made it home."

No spoilers, but the plane along with the museum do make a cameo appearance in the film. Coppinger and the museum staff got to see a screener before the movie hit theaters. And yes he says, they let out a cheer when they saw the plane on the big screen.