On January 15, 2009, US Airways pilots Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger and First Officer Jeffrey "Jeff" Skiles board US Airways Flight 1549 from LaGuardia Airport to Charlotte Douglas International Airport. Three minutes into the flight, at an approximate altitude of 2,800 feet (approx. 850 m), the Airbus A320 strikes a flock of birds, disabling both engines. Without engine power and judging themselves unable to reach nearby airports (Teterboro Airport being the closest), Sully decides to ditch the aircraft on theHudson River. He manages to land in the Hudson and the crew evacuates all passengers without casualty. The press and public hail Sullenburger as a hero, but the incident leaves Sullenburger with symptoms of PTSD shortly afterwards, and he repeatedly imagines the plane crashing into a building.
Afterwards, Sully learns that preliminary data from ACARS suggest that the port engine was still running at idle power. Theoretically, this would have left him with enough power to return to LaGuardia or land at Teterboro. Furthermore, the board of inquiry claims that several confidential computerized simulations of the flight have concluded that the plane could have been landed safely at either airport with no power from either engine. Sully, however, insists that he lost both engines, which left him without sufficient time, speed, or altitude to land safely at any airport.
Sully realizes that the NTSB is considering having the cause of the accident deemed pilot error, which would end his career. In a bid to save his reputation, he arranges to have the simulations rerun with live pilots, and the results are relayed to the public hearing. Both simulations result in successful landings, one at each airport. Sully argues that they are unrealistic because the pilots knew in advance of the situation they would face and of the suggested emergency action, and had also been able to practice the scenario several times. The board accepts that in real life the pilots would have taken some time to react, and run their emergency checks, before deciding to divert the plane.
The two simulations are re-run and relayed to the hearing, this time allowing a 35-second pause before the plane is diverted. The simulated diversion to LaGuardia ends with the plane landing onto the lead-in lights short of the runway, and to Teterboro with a crash into buildings before the airport. The board also announces that analysis of the port engine, now recovered from the river, confirms Sully's account that it had been put out of action by the bird strikes. The board therefore concludes that Sullenberger acted correctly in selecting the best of the options available to him, which in the event had saved the lives of everyone aboard.
At the end of the hearing First Officer Skiles is asked whether he would have done anything differently, and he replies: "Yes, I would have done it in July."
The end credits feature a montage of a reunion between the real passengers and crew of Flight 1549, filmed at the Carolinas Aviation Museum, where the real aircraft involved in the incident is on display.