And I saw the plane crashing into the river and people surviving.

Analysing Sully movie from behavioral science lens.

Movie Review - Sully - DelmarvaLife

"And I saw the plane crashing into the river and people surviving."

These were the observations of the people who were present at the Hudson River on January 15, 2009. What exactly was happening inside the cockpit and how the caption was deciding during 208 seconds. The time was less, both engines gone. What will they do? Will they listen to the air traffic controller to land or will they take some historic decision to land the plane on the river?

Sully movie beautifully captured the minute details. Let's list out some minute sub decisions and activities.

  • Sully ticked all checklist

  • During take-off, he glanced at the river

  • He was constantly communicating with the ATC

  • Told 'Unable' to ATC

  • Gave instructions to passengers to Brace for Impact

  • Landed to river

  • Called home immediately after a successful landing

  • Defended his action in front of media and lawyers

  • Asked them to make simulations more human

He called home to his wife immediately after landing which shows the high emotional intelligent quotient. He didn't get swayed by the emotional event. This shows the beautiful balance of professionalism and emotions.

Neuroscience shows us during dangerous situations, our reactions are often controlled by our ancient reptilian brain whos default options are - freezing, fleeing, fighting.;

Most of us are driven by fear and I personally sometimes become anxious during decision making in uncertain situations. One of the tricks I learned is to increase the reaction time. This simply means that take all the possible information in. Decide that I don't need more information. Lock it. Weigh in all the alternatives, pick top three. List out all the pros and cons. Whichever alternative gets a high score on pros, go with that decision. 

But what about that decision which is to be taken in uncertain situations like the COVID pandemic, but it has to also fast. For instance, What will you do if health professionals and police visits to your home and ask you to-

1. Either go along with them and self-quarantine yourself for 14 days in a government hospital. 

2. Or immediately pack your bags so that they can deport you to some unknown foreign country?

You have only 30 seconds to decide. (Only a hypothetical example, I wish all are doing well during this global crisis, you can leave your answers in the comment box down below).

Most of the times in this situation we take decisions only after gathering maximum possible information available. Because time is less and finite. After we take decisions we start feeling guilty. The inside thoughts of "we could have taken a better decision" haunts us.

So how can we overcome this guilt? We can rationalise ourself by saying that in whatever context we have decided we took the best possible decision.

Sully used his senses (visual, auditory, olfactory) extensively to gather all the information that he could learn from his surroundings. Sully saw the smoke coming out of both engines, smelled the birds burned flesh, and then heard a hushing noise from the engines. Therefore, in his decision-making process, he was aware of the surroundings. This process is also known as multisensory integration or multimodal integration.

Human vs Computer algorithms

Aircraft generally apply the computer algorithms inside the planes such as sensors, but these can not experience the flight case.

When the investigative committee recreated and reproduced the sequence of events during the flight as the crash simulations, it looked mechanical. The pilots already knew that they had to prepare for a crash ahead. 

They overlooked the human factor, that the pilot in that situation only had 1 minute to take this decision.

"You were looking for a human error then make it human." -Sully

Humans are often considered as an irrational animal with biased thinking in the context of Behavioural Economics. But sometimes the same the human element can also act as one factor that can distinguish from computers or animals. This power of us is the ability to make decisions based on gut feeling comes from years of practice and the unconscious mind.

When we do the job for a long time and years we build instinctual, heuristic-based quick problem-solving approaches. He has 30 years of experience as a pilot for commercial as well as military.

Sully allowed himself to be guided by his experience, instincts and common sense. He focused entirely on "solving this problem," as he told one news channel during the interview.

Different perceptions about his decision

Insurance companies and Investigator's Perception before crash simulation tests - Sully Could have Made it Back to LaGuardia.

Insurance companies and Investigator's Perception after crash simulation tests - Sully made the Right Move, Landing in the Hudson. When Sully was proved right they also perceived it as the right decision. The committee reviewed the discovery of missing parts of the contested engine and found that the engine was indeed non-functional, disproving the early tests.

This incident shows that we humans have the capability to do unnatural things. And have innate desire and insights of solving a problem creatively in different permutations and combinations.