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Will miracle pilot's silence make him a legend?

The wreckage of US Airways Flight 1549 sits on a barge at Weeks Marina in Jersey City, N.J. on Monday.

Associated Press

The wreckage of US Airways Flight 1549 sits on a barge at Weeks Marina in Jersey City, N.J. on Monday.

"Evacuate," the captain said after the plane went down, and that is the last thing we've heard from him.

The captain, of course, is Chesley B. Sullenberger — his buddies call him Sully — and you had never heard of him before Thursday, when he guided a 50-ton jetliner into the Hudson River, conveniently bringing it to rest near some ferries and saving 155 people from cold, awful death.

The pilot was so smooth, two flight attendants barely felt the plane touch down and had no idea they were in water.

In the time it takes to get through SkyMall, Sullenberger was rewarded with the key to New York, called a hero by the governor and invited to President-elect Obama's big show.

Come news cycles. Come book deals. Come movie pitches.

Come … silence?

Given the platform in a city of 8-million, a country of 304-million, a world of 7-billion, Captain America has yet to utter a word. (We're going on five days now. Where in the world is Matt Lauer?)

No Facebook updates, no Twitters, no uploaded iPhone images from the cockpit. Not even a quickie with CNN in his driveway.

In an age when celebrity hits hard and fast, Capt. Sullenberger is … we don't know. Defying expectations? And maybe that's a good thing.

"We have experienced with ever-increasing electronic rapidity the fall of clergy, sports heroes, politicians and other public figures," wrote David Hein in Christian Century. "People have concluded that it is safer to extol celebrities ('pseudo-heroes,' some call them) who can momentarily excite us and then be casually discarded than to invest themselves in heroes who in the end will only disappoint."

That's why there's something appealing and mysterious about those who shun the limelight. Subcomandante Marcos. J.D. Salinger. Will Oldham. Thomas Pynchon. Their gift is longevity.

The ones who talk?

Novelist Cormac McCarthy came out of hiding, sat on Oprah's chair and was so … normal.

Joe the Plumber exuded a folksy, everyman kind of cool for a split second. Now he's a parody of himself, in Gaza.

Imagine if Joe Namath, God love him, had never done an interview after Super Bowl III.

We want to superimpose ourselves onto our modern heroes, to ride myths, and the more we know about them, the harder that is, and the easier they are to discard.

The diligent reporters are camped in the captain's cul-de-sac, yearning for Sully to talk. But what if he sounds like a mouse? What if he drives a Hummer? What if he asks you to go see his movie?

The reporters saw him after the descent, inside the glass waiting room at the New York Waterway terminal on Pier 79.

His hair was unruffled. His tie was still tied. Clark Kent.

He exists in our collective conscious as a portrait of a hero, a man of few words.

"Brace for impact."

Kiss your children. Lock your doors. Ride into your sunset.

"Evacuate," and leave it at that.

Ben Montgomery can be reached at bmontgomery@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8650.

Will miracle pilot's silence make him a legend? 01/19/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 20, 2009 7:31am]

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