There was a tragic reminder this week of just how much can go wrong when survival hinges on everything going just right. The pilot of a small airliner that lost engine power tried for an emergency water landing in the Amazon. The crew and most of the passengers died, only a few managing to swim to safety from the tail exit as the airplane quickly sank.
That added a poignant counterpart to the week's celebration of the "miracle in New York," the successful landing of a large airliner in the Hudson River by US Airways Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger and his Flight 1549 crew. Sullenberger and his crew -- First Officer Jeff Skiles and flight attendants Sheila Dail, Doreen Welsh and Donna Dent -- got keys to the city (which, presumably, don't come with taxpaying privileges). There were interviews across the print, cable and broadcast TV spectrum.
Those celebrations were richly deserved. The fact that all 155 people survived is remarkable, and a testament to the skill of the pilot who safely ditched the aircraft after a collision with a flock of geese took out both engines 3,000 feet above one of the most densely populated places on the planet. It was also due in no small measure to the skill not only of co-pilot Skiles but of the attendants who helped the orderly evacuation, and of the passengers who for the most part kept their cool -- even though some of them found themselves standing on the slightly submerged wing of an aircraft drifting down a frigid river.
A major role, too, was played by the captains and crews of the vessels that were there almost immediately, and careful in accomplishing the difficult task of getting close enough to rescue folks without bumping the slowly sinking aircraft.
Tales of the US Airways flight from LaGuardia toward Charlotte are becoming legendary. People who either witnessed or heard the plane landing on the Hudson and saw so many people balancing themselves on the wings of the plane -- or knew someone who knew someone who witnessed it -- were eager to tell their stories. And the rest of us were eager to listen.
That everyone on Flight 1549 lived to tell the story gives them a lot to be grateful for. The captain's right. The story of the landing on the Hudson is one of a team effort. And it was a moment in time, at a time when America needed the reminder that such things do happen, that everything went just right.