'Sully': Accident Investigators Question Portrayal in Tom Hanks Film

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment
Mike O'Malley, who plays an accident investigator in 'Sully'

The National Transportation Safety Board said it was "not afforded an opportunity to ensure our actions and words were portrayed with accurate context or reflected our perspective."

Every hero needs a villain.

In Sully, Tom Hanks portrays Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, the American pilot who landed US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River in January 2009 — a risky and unprecedented emergency landing that saved all 155 people on board the plane after multiple bird strikes caused both engines to fail.

Throughout the docudrama, Hanks’ judgment and actions are severely questioned by accident investigators at the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, who argue that the seasoned pilot could have landed the aircraft back at LaGuardia Airport or at a nearby runway in New Jersey.

However, one of the real-life investigators told Bloomberg that he was confused by the NTSB’s villainous portrayal in the Clint Eastwood film, which is set to open Friday.

“There was no effort to crucify him or embarrass him,” Malcolm Brenner, a retired NTSB specialist in human behavior who was one of the initial team members to interview Sullenberger, told the news service. “If there were questions, it was to learn things. … I personally was very impressed.”

The NTSB said in a statement to Bloomberg that Sully “is a movie-worthy moment in aviation history.” Nevertheless, “the NTSB was not asked to contribute to or participate in the production of Sully and as such we were not afforded an opportunity to ensure our actions and words were portrayed with accurate context or reflected our perspective.”

A portion of the summary of the Warner Bros. film, based on Sullenberger’s book, reads, “Even as Sully was being heralded by the public and the media for his unprecedented feat of aviation skill, an investigation was unfolding that threatened to destroy his reputation and his career.” Mike O’Malley and Anna Gunn play the film's accident investigators who were “trying to paint the picture that he had done the wrong thing,” says Eastwood in a behind-the-scenes video (included below).

Still, Warner Bros. released a statement to Bloomberg from Sullenberger on the matter: “The story being told came from my experiences, and reflects the many challenges that I faced and successfully overcame both during and after the flight. I was involved in the development and am thrilled it’s being brought to the screen.”

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