It was over in minutes — seconds, really — but its impact was profound. With the attention of more than 100 eager but exhausted conventiongoers at stake, Captain Chelsea Sullenberger’s heroic brevity at BookExpo landed listeners safely at the five o’clock cocktail hour. Investigators have pieced together this highly unusual onstage appearance, helping us construct a precise timeline and giving us precious insight into the captain’s lightning-fast instincts.
2:50 p.m.: Uptown Stage, BEA floor: Sully fans begin massing not only in the seats provided but on the periphery of the stage, risking dangerous overcrowding.
3:07 p.m.: The speech delayed, nervous tittering and suppressed yawns ensue. But no one panics.
3:09 p.m.: BEA head Lance Festerman gives a 90-second introduction, telling the crowd about something that happened to a plane months ago “just a few blocks south from where we are now.” Announces Sully’s book, Highest Duty.
3:10:30 p.m.: Festerman concludes and Captain Sullenberger takes the stage. Thirty seconds of standing ovation.
3:11 p.m.: Sullenberger speaks. “On January 14, 2009, I was Sully, it’s just not that anybody knew it yet,” he says. “On January 15, my crew and I were faced with the ultimate challenge, and this project of which I am very proud — with partners HarperCollins — is about not only the event and not only my life’s journey leading up to it, but about the way I’ve been able to reflect upon my life and about what it was in the way that I prepared myself and chose to live and view the world, that turned out in retrospect to be a preparation not only for the events of January 15, but for this inevitable aftermath.” Sully’s long sentences threaten to make that aftermath even worse, but within two minutes, he executes his final maneuver — “Thank you very much” — and hands the controls back to Festerman.
3:13 p.m.: Standing ovation.
3:13:30 p.m.: Festerman guides fans into the center aisle, clearing the seats rapidly and allowing for an orderly, calm signing process. Books are not available, but fans improvise with materials at hand.
3:14 to 4:30 p.m.: Signing.