I was at my brother Alan Zeigler's home, then in Mountain Brook. It was early morning, and we were drinking coffee. Alan was intently watching the morning news on TV, a morning ritual.
I glanced over and saw that he was watching a commercial airliner landing in New York's Hudson River. The news reporters were raving about the safe landing – no deaths and no serious injuries.
All of a sudden, Alan quietly says, "That's my classmate." Alan had graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs, having been appointed by Alabama Congressman Bill Nichols of Sylacauga.
"The pilot was Sully Sullenberger, my classmate."
That got my attention, and I closely followed the rest of the news coverage. And I have followed the news and developments with personal interest ever since.
Sully Sullenberger, from Texas, had been appointed to the Air Force Academy and studied there from start to graduation with Alan Zeigler from Sylacauga.
Alan said then and continues to say that he was not surprised that Sully was able to safely land the passenger plane in the river after he had lost both engines to flocks of birds.
"Sully was a by-the-book guy. He had a plan for every contingency. When he had to land the plane, he knew the steps to take. It was a process."
"All Sully ever wanted to do was be a pilot. He was a dead-serious pilot."
I thought how blessed the passengers were – and that America was – to have such a man as Sully flying that plane.
Authorities investigated Sully's actions and put him and his wife through the third degree. The conclusion was that "ditching" the plane in the Hudson was the safest course with the least risk. Sully was a legitimate American folk hero. We seem to have fewer of those now and need more in these times.
Two Sully books, a Sully movie (Tom Hanks), hundreds of public appearances, and an ambassadorship later, and most Americans know the story of "The Miracle on the Hudson."
Alan Zeigler and wife Nancy are flying to Colorado Springs on September 28 for the 50th reunion of his class of '73 of the Air Force Academy – the class of Alan Zeigler and Sully Sullenberger. I asked Alan if Sully would be at the reunion. He immediately said, "He always comes. There every time."
I guess if you are a by-the-book guy and only interested in being the best possible pilot, you would be at your class reunions of the Air Force Academy.
I'm thinking about asking Alan if he would try to get Sully to Alabama over the next year or so. Maybe to speak at a commencement at the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force in Montgomery. Or maybe to a major program of our Alabama Air National Guard.
The motto of the Alabama Air National Guard is "Always ready, always there." That motto would aptly describe Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger on the day his training and ability were tested to save 155 lives in the safe landing in the Hudson River.
Jim Zeigler is a former Alabama Public Service Commissioner and State Auditor.
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