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Flight 1549 copilot shares experience of Hudson River crash

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WONDER LAKE – The 2009 incident in which a flock of birds brought down US Airways Flight 1549 in the chilly waters of the Hudson River remains a constant reminder of the importance of aviation safety training.

A much more dismal picture would have been painted that fateful day had this imperative training not been followed.

Jeff Skiles, copilot of Flight 1549 that day, said he credits years of training, checklists and procedures with getting him through his stressful and time-compressed experience when the lives of 150 passengers were in his and pilot Chesley Sullenberger’s hands.

Skiles, a resident of Madison, Wis., spoke Saturday at the FAA Wings seminar, “Aeronautical Decision Making,” at Wonder Lake’s Galt Airport.

The seminar was sponsored by local Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 932 to encourage continued education in aviation safety beyond standard flight training.

Following the hype of the “miracle landing,” Skiles returned to commercial flying briefly, but has since taken a position as EAA vice president of Chapters and Youth Education.

Although he is no longer a commercial pilot, Skiles still flies in his 1935 Waco biplane. His experience on the Hudson did not deter him from jumping back into his captain’s seat.

“For some reason people always expect planes to crash. I, on the other hand, expect them not to,” Skiles said. “Flying is an adventure. I’ve never wanted to do anything else. I’ve always been a pilot.”

Also offering safety tips and training to pilots and students was FAASTeam Program Manager Sam Heiter.

Attendees were reminded that the decisions a pilot makes in the air not only affects them, but also the lives of their passengers and people on the ground. Pilots and students were encouraged to improve their decision-making skills to avoid accidents and fatalities.

Participation in aviation by all ages also was encouraged.

“If you’re interested in aviation, you better do it, because if you don’t you will never know the great adventure that you have missed out on,” Skiles said.

Skiles offered information on the EAA as well as upcoming advancements and youth program opportunities.

Youth programs include the Young Eagles, Flight Link, Air Academy and the SOAR young women’s program, which the EAA puts on to encourage membership and generate interest in becoming future flyers.

Skiles also spoke of the Eagle Flight program in which seasoned adult pilots donate their time and planes to take kids for rides in the sky.

Program participants Jim Uick and Bob Gilbreath of Racine, Wis., are active flyers who own Cessna planes.

The two are Palmyra Flying Club members who often take flights on Sunday mornings to meet for breakfast.

“It’s the most expensive breakfast you’ll ever have, but you’re not going for the food,” Gilbreath said.

Uick agreed and said he loves to fly because it’s a lot of fun and the sky is a foreign environment that takes skill to navigate. Uick said he’ll use any excuse to take a flight.

“I once flew to LaCrosse for a candy bar,” Uick said.

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