Passengers cheer Hudson-landing pilot on return to air

NEW YORK —"This is your captain, Chesley Sullenberger."

Passengers on two US Airways flights erupted in cheers when they heard those words from the cockpit Thursday.

"I was overwhelmed when I found out it was him," said Don Lambert, 61, of Fort Mill, S.C., who flew from Charlotte, N.C., to New York's LaGuardia Airport. "You feel like you have the best pilot in the world fixing to fly you to New York."

Sullenberger, the hero pilot who landed a disabled jetliner safely in the Hudson River on Jan. 15, was reunited with co-pilot Jeffrey Skiles on Thursday's flights, which marked his official return to flying for US Airways.

"It's good to be back in New York," Sullenberger said at a LaGuardia news conference. "And it's good to be back at work."

Sullenberger said the gratitude of passengers has been "an extraordinary gift." And he bestowed the same gift on his colleague.

"You have my eternal gratitude for your skill and your courage," he said, turning to Skiles.

For Thursday's passengers, what mattered was the thrill of having Sullenberger at the controls.

"It was like everyone was taking their first flight," Jay Howard, 47, said after landing in his hometown of Charlotte.

Among the passengers waiting to board the flight from New York to Charlotte was Barry Leonard, who was on the Jan. 15 "Miracle on the Hudson" flight.

Leonard said he was excited to retake that flight with Sullenberger and Skiles.

"I chose to do this; this is part of therapy for me," he said.