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Student Spotlight: Kelly Sullenberger

Staff Writer

Published: Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Updated: Tuesday, October 1, 2013 16:10

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COURTESY // Kelly Sullenberger

Kelly Sullenberger and her father Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger III have been through a lot together, but their father-daughter relationship has remained strong throughout their lives.

A lot of young kids look up to their dads and consider them to be heroes. Sonoma State University student Kelly Sullenberger belongs in that category, but the only difference is that the rest of the country agrees with her.

On Jan. 15, 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 landed in the middle of the Hudson River in New York. The plane had hit a flock of birds, which caused both of the engines to become disabled, according to New York Daily News.

What could have been a tragedy turned into a story of heroism and bravery thanks to Sullenberger’s father, pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger III. He landed the plane in the river with zero fatalities.

On the day of the landing, her mother, who told her the news of what had happened, picked up Sullenberger from school early.

“She said he was okay, but I immediately started crying, because ‘okay’ can mean a lot of things,” said Sullenberger. “It can mean not dead or it can mean perfect condition.”

Sullenberger III had been a pilot long before his daughter was born, so the risks associated with his profession rarely crossed her mind. She only ever began to fear for his safety after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

After hearing what had happened, the risks became all too real.

While she was filled with pride at what her father had accomplished, she almost lost her father that day.

The country celebrated the landing and nicknamed her father the ‘Hero on the Hudson,’ but it took a while for her family to celebrate.

After the story of the accident spread, life for the Sullenberger family changed drastically.

“My sister and I had to learn to mature very fast,” said Sullenberger.

She and her family were thrust into the limelight, which meant that everyday life was no longer simple.

“We were bombarded with phone calls, news trucks lined our street and we received countless offers [for appearances],” said Sullenberger.

Every time they left the house they were stopped on the street, which was a big adjustment. She and her family had to learn how to deal with these changes with grace.

However, her father’s celebrity status has had its perks. Their family was able to attend President Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009 and got to meet him, which Sullenberger said has been one of the best experiences since the accident.

She’s gotten to travel around the world for conferences to countries like France and Australia. Her dad even got to be the Grand Marshal in the Rose Parade and attend the Rose Bowl Game.

“Although all of these things have been amazing opportunities, there were many times when I just wanted to be a normal teenager,” said Sullenberger.

For this reason, she turned down the chance to appear on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” or attend the Super Bowl.

She has been able to retain some semblance of normalcy in her life. Since high school, she has loved to perform and participate in dance and drama. She is currently a freshman and is majoring in history.

Another thing that hasn’t changed for Sullenberger is her relationship with her father.

“My dad is my dad. He’s always been my hero,” said Sullenberger.

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