In less than three minutes, Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger made the crucial decisions that saved the lives of his 155 passengers and crew that cold January morning after a bird strike forced him to land US Airways Flight 1549 on New York's Hudson River.
Within hours, live video of Sullenberger's "miracle on the Hudson" had transformed the unassuming 58-year-old career pilot and safety expert into a national hero, lifting the hearts of a nation struggling through a winter of economic discontent.
In "Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters," Sullenberger recreates the intense scene inside the cockpit of Flight 1549 and reflects on the lifetime of experiences that prepared him to perform a miracle.
Along the way, he revisits his Texas boyhood where he learned to fly from a crusty crop-duster, his Air Force service that taught him discipline, and his struggles as a husband and father to two adopted daughters that at times tested his commitment to aviation.
Bankrate caught up with the "miracle" worker on the wings of his first book tour.
Bankrate: Your star ascended quickly following the three-minute "miracle on the Hudson." What was the hardest part of suddenly finding yourself thrust onto the world stage?
Capt. Sullenberger: At first, it was simply overwhelming to go from zero to 60 in what felt like a nanosecond. Going from being a regular and anonymous guy to sudden fame was a huge part of this life-changing event, both for me and my family. But as we've had time to process the event and its aftermath -- and put it in perspective, we realize how many wonderful opportunities have come our way to make a difference in the world as a result of Jan. 15.
Bankrate: What has surprised you the most about your sudden fame?
Sullenberger: What surprised me initially was that this story touched so many people around the world, and that it has kept a high level of interest for so many months. I think the reason that it has gotten people's attention, captured their imaginations and lasted so long is that this happened at a time when people were looking for good news, needed to feel hopeful again and wanted reassurance that all our ideals were still true.
Bankrate: What has been your biggest thrill?
Sullenberger: So far, the biggest thrill for my entire family was going to the Inauguration and meeting President (Barack) Obama and the First Lady.
Bankrate: What part of the "miracle on the Hudson" did the media get wrong?
Sullenberger: That I was wearing my hat that day! It was actually in my closet at home in California. Wearing a hat is optional at my airline and has been for many years. I don't think the media intended to get it wrong. They were just looking for a way to say that I looked composed.