Captain of his team
You start to answer that question by stating the obvious: It is unprecedented to lose all engines on a loaded passenger jetliner in one of the most critical stages of flight and get a casualty-free result. Live television coverage of the dramatic rescue after the Hudson River landing of USAirways Flight 1549 captured a huge audience of people who watched in wonder and wanted to cheer at a time when there hasn't been a lot for many of us to cheer about.
Besides, we all know, deep down inside, we're not supposed to be able to fly. I just returned from the West Coast on a totally routine turbulence-free nonstop and could see nervous people in the cabin. So when we see something like this our basic instincts are affirmed (bad things can happen if you fly) and remarkable skill produced a hero who executed an implausible happy ending. So of course we cheer.
Competence, coolness under pressure and teamwork all played a role. But competence, coolness under pressure and outstanding teamwork do not happen fluently if the captain of the team chokes. Capt. Sullenberger, a service academy graduate (where learning leadership is job one), a military officer, a pilot since he was a teenager, comes on as a nice guy. His personal history and his devotion to a job he loves prepared him for this moment. His demeanor - he's in charge but he's a nice guy, and he knows what he's doing - made success possible.
Of course we want to cheer.
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