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Doing What We're Trained to Do

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

While all of Washington, Wall Street and the Babbling Class are counting every semi-colon in the House and Senate versions of the so-called stimulus package, it is useful to remember that regular people often do extraordinary things.

Case in point: the crew of US Airways Flight 1549 - the plane which landed in the Hudson River who appeared with Larry King on CNN last night.

It was a welcomed change from the frenzied point-counterpoint of what is good (not much) and what is bad (quite a bit) in H.R. 1 and what the Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner's bank bailout package might (not much) or might not (quite a bit) do.

A hundred years ago, when Newt Gingrich was Republican Whip in the U.S. House and I was his press secretary we talked about whether there might be a way to make the Whip operation more efficient. Newt, being Newt, suggested a asking one of the airlines for an official checklist which their cockpit crews use prior to every flight.

The idea was: Let's don't reinvent what we need to do every time we need to do it. Let's establish procedures and simply repeat them each time.

On Larry King, pilot Chesley Sullenberger and first officer Jeffrey Skiles calmly recounted what they did from the point that the plane ran into a flock of (probably) Canada Geese which caused both engines to shut down.

While Sullenberger was trying to assess whether he could get back to LaGuardia Airport, or make it to nearby Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, Skiles described how he went through the Engine Restart Checklist including, essentially rebooting the system to see if the engines would come back up.

They didn't.

Sullenberger determined that the physics of the situation - airspeed minus altitude - meant the aircraft didn't have enough energy to get to either airport and told air traffic control he was going to land in the Hudson River.

When you listen to the audio of the final 30-or-so seconds of the flight, pay attention to the voices of the three air traffic controllers. One was in contact with the pilot, the other two were (assumedly) in the control towers at LaGuardia and Teterboro.

In a matter of about 90 seconds Sullenberger was given options for (and directions to) specific runways at the two airports.

After Sullenberger told the flight attendants and the passengers to "prepare for impact" Stiles switched from the Engine Restart Checklist to the Evacuation Checklist. The flight attendants - Doreen Welsh, Sheila Dail and Donna Dent - called for the passengers to get their heads down and brace - but they didn't know that this was going to be an unscheduled water landing.

You know the rest. Everyone got out. Everyone was rescued. The crew has been honored from the Superbowl to New York City.

Here's the point, though. Larry King asked Jeff Skiles if that outcome was "a combination of miracles."

Skiles said, "No. We were doing what we're trained to do."

The cockpit crew. The cabin crew. The controllers. And, in the end, the dozens of boat captains who raced to the scene to get people out of the water, off the wings and away from the life rafts.

Everyone was saved because everyone did what they were trained to do.

Let's see if our elected and appointed officials in Washington, in state capitals, in county courthouses and city halls can do as well.

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