Date of this Version
FROM: Leadership in Dangerous Situations : A Handbook for the Armed Forces, Emergency Services, and First Responders. Edited by Patrick J. Sweeney, Michael D. Matthews, and Paul B. Lester (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2011).
I n January 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 performed an emergency landing in the Hudson River after hitting a flock of birds and losing thrust in all engines. Decisions made by the pilot not to return to the airport of the flight's origin or to attempt to land at surrounding airports, but instead to bring the aircraft down in the icy cold waters between New York City and New Jersey, saved all 155 people on board. A few years earlier, on September 11, 2001, another plane had flown down the Hudson River, this time intentionally crashing into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Seventeen minutes later, hijackers flew a second plane into the upper floors of the South Tower. On that fateful morning, there were two other deliberate plane crashes, one into the Pentagon and the other into a field in Pennsylvania. People around the world watched intently as firefighters and other emergency responders made critical decisions in their efforts to rescue some 20,000 people thought to have been in the towers that day. Subsequently, in Afghanistan and Iraq, military commanders made life and death decisions on battlefields. Through the use of mass media, people around the world are often eyewitnesses in near real time to the decisive moment when leadership is on the line and critical decisions are made to adapt to the danger of extreme events. Those watching the decision makers have infinite time to second-guess after the fact, free of the stress and personal drama that surround these decisions.