Clint Eastwood paid an unpublicized visit to Charlotte to inspect and film the “Miracle on the Hudson” aircraft for his new movie “Sully,” about the pilot who splash-landed the stricken jetliner.
Eastwood’s visit Friday at Carolinas Aviation Museum became a mini-reunion of many of those involved in the Jan. 15, 2009, ditching of Charlotte-bound US Airways Flight 1549, which lost both engines to bird strikes two minutes after takeoff from LaGuardia Airport.
Joining Eastwood was the flight crew of the Airbus A320 – Capt. Sully Sullenberger, first officer Jeff Skiles and flight attendants Donna Dent, Sheila Dail, and Doreen Welsh.
Also gathered was air traffic controller Patrick Harten, who was guiding the aircraft during the emergency, Gov. Pat McCrory and more than 20 passengers from the Charlotte area who maintain a tight-knit social circle.
Shawn Dorsch, museum president, said Saturday that he took Eastwood through the aircraft and the “Dirty Harry” star, who continues his career at age 85 as a director and producer, sat in Sullenberger’s seat in the cockpit.
“He was very interested in the historical details of the incident and the aircraft,” said Dorsch.
Dials, switches and other components of the cockpit, including the controls activating the two engine fire extinguishers, have been left exactly as they were set when the plane was retrieved from the Hudson River, Dorsch said.
In the fuselage, Dorsch told Eastwood how the belly of the plane hit the Hudson with such force that Sullenberger feared the overhead bins had broken open and spilled luggage on the passengers.
If that had happened, Sullenberger had told Dorsch earlier, the cabin – flooding from a hole torn in the rear – never would have been evacuated in only 90 seconds.
Eastwood told Dorsch about being in a military plane crash when he was in the Army. A Navy AD-1 Skyraider Eastwood was riding in crashed in 1951 off San Francisco, and he was in the water for about two hours before being rescued. Eastwood continues to fly as a civilian helicopter pilot.
Two fuselages of retired jetliners are being used for water scenes in California, and most of the rest of the movie, based on Sullenberger’s autobiography, is being filmed in Georgia. Tom Hanks is playing Sullenberger, who retired from US Airways in 2010 and was hired by CBS News as an aviation safety expert.