A Surprising Animation Revisits the Miracle on the Hudson & the Cause of US Airways Flight 1549’s Crash

Near­ly 15 years ago, US Air­ways Flight 1549 took off from New York City’s LaGuardia Air­port, bound for Seat­tle by way of Char­lotte, North Car­oli­na.

Short­ly after take­off, the air­craft plowed into a flock of migrat­ing birds, and its engines failed.

In less than four min­utes, Cap­tain Ches­ley “Sul­ly” Sul­len­berg­er guid­ed the ves­sel down to the frigid Hud­son Riv­er.

Office work­ers on Man­hat­tan’s west side were riv­et­ed by the spec­ta­cle of pas­sen­gers stand­ing on the wings, await­ing res­cue by two NY Water­way fer­ries and oth­er local boats.

Every­one on board sur­vived, and few of their injuries were seri­ous.

The inci­dent was quick­ly framed as “the Mir­a­cle on the Hud­son” and Cap­tain Sul­len­berg­er was hailed as a hero.

Cap­tain Sul­len­berg­er cred­it­ed his suc­cess­ful maneu­ver to his 42 years as a pilot:

I’ve been mak­ing small, reg­u­lar deposits in this bank of expe­ri­ence, edu­ca­tion and train­ing. And on Jan­u­ary 15, the bal­ance was suf­fi­cient so that I could make a very large with­draw­al.

Such mod­esty only empha­sized his hero­ism in the eyes of the pub­lic.

Such nar­ra­tives pre­oc­cu­py ani­ma­tor Bernar­do Brit­to, whose 2020 short Hud­son Geese comes at this his­toric event from anoth­er angle:

Nar­ra­tives become our way of explain­ing and under­stand­ing the world. They are a part of how we build our iden­ti­ties and the sto­ries we tell about our­selves. And sto­ries by def­i­n­i­tion are exclu­sion­ary. Because you can’t fit it all in a sto­ry. They’re reduc­tive. They’re sim­pli­fied, eas­i­ly digestible ver­sions of a chain of events that’s way too com­plex for us to wrap our heads around.

(His inter­est in look­ing beyond estab­lished nar­ra­tive bound­aries car­ries over to the land acknowl­edg­ment in his short’s final cred­its: ”Before Ches­ley, before air­planes, before the apart­ment in which this short was con­ceived, “New York City” was the home of the Lenape, Canar­sie, and Wap­pinger peo­ple.”)

Revis­it­ing the Mir­a­cle on the Hud­son in the thrall of the Rashomon effect may mute your rage­ful impuls­es the next time a flock of Cana­da geese toi­lets its way across your favorite green space.

Even though Hud­son Geese clocks in at a tight five, we get enough time with its name­less lead to become invest­ed in his trav­els, his ded­i­ca­tion to his life part­ner, Sharona, his migra­tion his­to­ry, and his con­nec­tion to his ani­mal essence:

As we take to the air, I feel a famil­iar emo­tion, a deep sense that this is where I real­ly belong, more so than the lake in Shaw­ini­gan, much more so than the golf course on the Potomac, I belong here, in the air, fly­ing safe­ly over all the noise, high above the city, that unin­tel­li­gi­ble mess of spires and sky­scrap­ers, that island that became for rea­sons unknown to a sim­ple goose like me, the very cen­ter of all the world.

Cap­tain Sul­len­berg­er and co-pilot Jeff Skiles receive ani­mat­ed cameos in Hud­son Geese, as do Tom Han­ks and Clint East­wood, leav­ing our anti-hero to won­der who will immor­tal­ize Sharona and who will remem­ber the day’s “fall­en fowl.”

(With regard to the last ques­tion, pos­si­bly, Tom Haueter, the Nation­al Trans­porta­tion Safe­ty Board’s for­mer head of major acci­dent inves­ti­ga­tion. The Fed­er­al Avi­a­tion Admin­is­tra­tion failed to imple­ment many of his pro­posed safe­ty mea­sures fol­low­ing the crash.)

The human media’s hot take was that “thank­ful­ly no one was hurt.

The goose can only con­ceive of the Mir­a­cle on the Hud­son as a “com­plete and utter mas­sacre.”

Watch more of Bernar­do Britto’s ani­ma­tions on his Vimeo chan­nel.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Sal­vador Dalí & Walt Disney’s Short Ani­mat­ed Film, Des­ti­no, Set to the Music of Pink Floyd

Shel Silverstein’s The Giv­ing Tree: The Ani­mat­ed Film Nar­rat­ed by Shel Sil­ver­stein Him­self (1973)

The Employ­ment: A Prize-Win­ning Ani­ma­tion About Why We’re So Dis­en­chant­ed with Work Today

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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  • Joseph says:

    The nar­ra­tion is dull and life­less. Why this choice? Why not have an active, emo­tion­al voice that brings some­thing to the short movie? Ugh. Try­ing to be cool and detached but instead destroys the impact of what could have been some­thing spe­cial.

  • Rosalie O'Brien says:

    I agree that the nar­ra­tion is tone­less, and the words spo­ken very quick­ly. But as I lis­tened again, I began to won­der whether that’s not a part of the work: the sub­tle­ty of the fact that it’s a goose say­ing things that are pro­found in a way that is real­ly the key point of the whole pro­duc­tion. To infuse the words with an emo­tion that would be con­fus­ing­ly human would fail to hon­or the under­ly­ing thought: from a uni­ver­sal per­spec­tive, we humans are ter­ri­bly nar­cis­sis­tic.

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