In the recent movie Sully, the junior-looking ATC operator who witnesses the ditching of Sully's plane is shown as though he is facing a disciplinary action for somehow failing to properly handle the incident, if not for failing to singlehandedly prevent the plane from ditching - of course he was cleared in the aftermath.

I thought maybe it's just sequestering after an incident to ensure an accurate record, but it definitely felt like "we're firing you for this, maybe throw criminal charges at you"-type of situation.

...but I didn't buy that because he has at least two superiors standing directly behind him throughout the entire situation and none of them directed him to do any differently in handling the situation. I'm far from being an ATC expert myself but what the film showed him to do seemed textbook.

So what was going on with him then?

1 Answer 1


I am not a controller, but I know people who are and were -- still not an expert though. But here are my thoughts.

It goes without saying that this was a very, very serious incident in ATC circles and many more. As soon as it was determined that an emotional event occurred on the part of the controller, he was immediately replaced. The reason for this is that controllers have to have cool, calm heads in order to do their jobs. That would no longer be possible for this controller. He was not off shift, but he was removed from controlling for the safety of all concerned.

All incidents like this will automatically generate a pretty complete investigation -- beginning with all immediate parties to the event. So some immediate things had to happen like drug testing and such. A proficient controller would not fear this because he knows he is clean. This is just a matter of course when an investigation begins.

It kinda' looked like he was being ostracized but not the case. He was simply put in a relaxing place where he can be out of the way of people that needed to continue controlling. If you recall, he was periodically visited by colleagues that were trying to console him.

  • 1
    This documentary states this was indeed the case. He was removed by his superiors who realised he was in no condition to continue (he thought the plane had crashed and didn't hear about the water landing until later) and also so that he could recount what happened just as a matter of protocol and be looked after by his union representatives.
    – sebf
    Nov 15, 2016 at 19:27

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .