Tom Hanks's movie Sully: Miracle on the Hudson ending explained

Sully: Miracle on the Hudson (Image via Imdb)
Sully: Miracle on the Hudson (Image via Warner Bros.)

Clint Eastwood wrote and directed the 2016 American biographical drama film Sully (previously titled Sully: Miracle on the Hudson). It is based on the 2009 autobiography Highest Duty by Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger and Jeffrey Skiles.

On January 15, 2009, pilot Chesley Sullenberger, played by Tom Hanks, and co-pilot Jeff Skiles, played by Aaron Eckhart, saved the lives of 155 passengers. It happened when they successfully landed the Airbus A320 on the Hudson River following a bird strike that destroyed two turbines. The public and media hail Chesley as a hero.

However, the official inquiry states that the left engine was idle and not damaged. The flight simulator suggests that a landing at LaGuardia or Teterboro would have been feasible instead of risking the passengers' lives by landing in the Hudson River.

If the captain doesn't defend himself before the commission, he must provide new proof of the incident to protect his career and reputation.


Why did Sully decide to dock the flight into the freezing waters of the Hudson River?

Sully docks the flight in the Hudson River (Image via Warner Bros.)
Sully docks the flight in the Hudson River (Image via Warner Bros.)

The press and media hailed Sully's act as heroic. On the other hand, the authorities were planning to investigate the captain because, according to the ACARS (Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System) reports, the left engine of the aircraft was in ideal condition for the aircraft to safely make it back to the airport instead of landing in the river and undertaking such a greater risk.

The captain, being investigated by Dr Charles Porter( Mike O'Malley) and his assistant, Dr Elizabeth Davis, tells them that he had asked La Guardia for a return. However, based on his years of experience, knew that the engines and the speed of the aircraft wouldn't allow it to make it to the airport. The flight would have crashed halfway, trying to make its way back.


Why is the captain interrogated even though he managed to save the lives of hundreds of passengers on board?

The pilots were interrogated (Image via Warner Bros.)
The pilots were interrogated (Image via Warner Bros.)

Although Sully and his co-pilot were responsible for saving the lives of all the passengers inside the aircraft and were aware of the situation that unfolded in the air, the computers in the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) claimed that the plane had enough power to return to either LaGuardia or Teterboro airport.

Sully's co-pilot informs the authorities that they only managed to avoid a crash and save the lives of all the passengers due to the captain's quick thinking and because the captain had turned on the Auxiliary power unit.


What happens at the end scene of Sully?

End scene of the film (Image via Warner Bros.)
End scene of the film (Image via Warner Bros.)

In the film's climactic moments, the captain and his co-pilot, Jeff Skiles, explain their conduct in a public hearing.

Chesley is unwavering in his conviction that he made the correct decision. He contends that landing on water was their only practical alternative due to their limited time and knowledge. He raises an important point when he wonders if simulations can accurately represent human instinct and judgment under duress.

As the hearing goes on, it becomes clear that the captain is right to follow his instincts. The simulations have flaws because they ignore essential variables like response time and human error. Ultimately, the NTSB finds that the captain's actions are appropriate and recognizes his skills and background as a pilot.


The film's conclusion further highlights public perception and the media's impact on an individual's reputation. After being lauded as a hero at first, Chesley finds himself the subject of intense investigation, and his legacy and career are in jeopardy. Thanks to the investigation's conclusion, his reputation is cleared, and confidence in his flying prowess is re-established.

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