Sully Sullenberger – His symptoms and how to recover from Post Traumatic Stress (PTS)

“If you are suffering PTS please remember not just that professionals can treat your problem, but that when treated well, there can also be growth from trauma” – RDC


I allocated two pages in my first book QF32 to explain the symptoms I experienced of PTS.

In FLY!, I allocate 27 pages to the subject of PTS and PTSD.   I discuss the symptoms of PTS on the human body at pages 250-252.

Here is a short (2 minute) video by Sully about his symptoms of PTS.

I experienced these same symptoms after QF32 that Sully details here.   I had so much trouble concentrating the day after QF32 that I stopped;

  • watching TV
  • listening to the radio
  • reading newspapers

Every persons symptoms of PTS will vary.  But the elevated emotions, distractions, preoccupations and elevated stress will probably affect every sufferer.

Take control of your PTS memories

Some of our many brains (RDC)

Here are my thoughts about how to recover from PTS

“there can be growth from trauma”  – RDC

The key to easing the symptoms of PTS is to reduce the strength of the bad memories in the hippocampus (short term memory) in the brain:

  • The top 20 percent (approx) of short term memories are not deprecated (in strength) during sleep.  If not deprecated into the lower 80% of memories, these top 20% of significant memories remain in the hippocampus the next day after sleep, then the next, then the next ….. perhaps forever.
  • Stressful hypocampal memories remain active to distract us during the day (see Sully’s video above) and can cause sleeplessness and nightmares at night.
  • So the key to reducing the severity of PTS is to consciously do things to manually deprecate (the strength of) PTS memories in the hippocampus until they fall below this 80% threshold.
  • Talking-grieving about the event, and overshadowing it with other more positive memories all help to reduce the strength of the synaptic connections to other memories that terrify us.   Read more about this in FLY!
  • When we talk about and grieve about PTS or overshadow our PTS memories, the severity of these PTS memories reduce and eventually fall into the lower 80% of hippocampus memories.
  • The lowest 80% of hippocampal memories will be sequentially  deprecated with each episode of deep sleep until we “forget” them or they cease to excite us.  That’s why, after a good night’s sleep, you cannot remember insignificant things like “when did I go to the bathroom yesterday”,
  • When we get the PTS memories down into the lower 80% of (short term) hippocampal memories, these memories will progressively weaken and so distract and terrify us less with each night’s sleep.
  • Furthermore, a part of the function of deep sleep and dreaming sleep, is to effectively transfer hippocampal memories to cortical (long term) memories, by embedding (associating) these new memories with and rendered by a broad range of other more pleasurable memories that modulate or perhaps fully inhibit the fear response.
  • Happy Days. Past Qantas cabin crew uniform (RDC)

    When PTS memories are excised from the hippocampus and stored in the cortex in association with other logical memories, it’s at this time the PTS ceases and you can rationally discuss these traumatic events without triggering another cycle of trauma.

  • When the fear response ceases to be triggered when remembering an event – the PTS is most likely resolved.

If you are suffering PTS, then remember you are not alone.   Please:

  • consider whether you are fit to work and lead others,
  • tell your close friends and family, and
  • seek professional help.

If you are suffering PTS please remember not just that professionals can treat your problem, but that when treated well, there can also be growth from trauma.

Me in front of Coplu’s – “QF32”

8 thoughts on “Sully Sullenberger – His symptoms and how to recover from Post Traumatic Stress (PTS)

  1. I remember his icy cold voice from the cockpit. He is a very special man. Of course he paid in poststress currency later. Like all the heroes.


  2. PTSD is something that unfortunately has not yet come into everyone’s mind as something very serious. Still people are ridiculed for showing symptoms like the ones mentioned here and seen as weak. I remember being in a very stressful situation myself (Large fire on a passenger ship and leading one of the fire teams) and asking for support afterwards as exactly those symptoms came up. Initially this request was turned down in a quite sarcastic way by the ship’s command, who apparently thought that seamen would be super-heroes not needing such help. I


    1. Thanks for your comments Alex. This is a teaching and learning issue.

      People who have not experienced PTS generally have little empathy and understanding for those who do/have.

      Half the adult population has at some time suffered PTS. Mott of the elderly have lost a close and loved one. These people understand and appreciate the problems.

      This is why I have devoted an entire chapter in FLY! to stress, PTS and PTSD.

      Best regards Rich

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Very true Captain.

        It is very good to notice, that slowly the attitude of “I am a superhero, I don‘t have such things“ vanishes and people become more aware of the reactions to traumatic events, especially those are NATURAL and NORMAL!

        Aviation has done the right thing with the introduction of Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM). Hopefully other industry branches will follow this example.

        Best wishes Alex


  3. It was not until many other people stepped in and asked for the same, that help was finally offered and well received by everyone. Thank you for insisting on the importance of this subject, it cannot be stressed enough, how serious it is.

    Is there a way maybe to contribute actively in helping people? I am more than happy to share my own experience and support others. (My apologies for the cut comment, my finger was too quickly on the “enter” button)


  4. During my time as a locomotive driver (34 years on the footplate) it was a common held fact that nearly every driver would be involved in a level crossing crash. A good percentage would a fatality. It was a little time after I returned from suburban EMUs to the Loco that the department (as it still was then) took us into a class about PTSD. There theory being forewarned is forearmed. The routine in the old days was to sit and talk about it in the meal room or over the bar.
    Although that wasn’t always a fix and some never returned to the footplate.
    While I was lucky enough not to have a fatality in those 34 years, I had been involved with some after incident. This “training” I valued for insight it gave me and what to expect how to cope with it.
    I understand intellectually yet I don’t know how I would have been as I was never tested.
    That being said just driving on the freeway is pretty traumatic and I wonder if the increase in “road rage” incidents is a symptom of PTS?


    1. Hi Reece,

      Thanks for your candid discussion about stress and PTSD in the train industry.

      It does not surprise me that train drivers will probably suffer a traumatic event and suffer PTS and PTSD over the span of their careers. Obviously, the same can be said for people in the rescue and policing industries such as paramedics, firemen, police and of course the military. I have empathy and compassion for them all.

      My QF32 book raised a lot of discussions about PTS. So I dedicated a chapter to PTS and PTSD in my second book FLY! At every conference where I address people, the topic of stress and the problems of recovering from PTSD inevitably arise. I am committed to and I am doing my best to help PTSD sufferers recover from, and in the best case even grow from their traumas. We must also consider the second victims who suffer as well.

      To answer your question, I think road rage is a symptom of the stress associated with life today. Too many people and cars in too little space with congestion, delays and people losing control to manage their lives as a consequence. I don’t think road rage is due to PTS or PTSD – indeed, these stresses in chronic conditions keep people inside their homes and reduces their travels and interactions with others.

      When you understand the motivation for stress and anger then it becomes easier to manage people who suffer from it. They need support, empathetic understanding and only the closest people I think can intervene to force them into line. On the roads for instance, I am acutely aware that many people are commuting over long distances to/from work every morning/afternoon. As a consequence they are tired, frustrated and angry about the delays and the lack of their abilities to control them. When I see people who exhibit these stresses on the roads, I give way to them and let them pass.

      I am not sure I have given you any solutions to the problems, but I have tried to give you the cause. We need to identify the problems in our societies (for example overpopulation) and manage the causes (infrastructure, planning, religion and birth control). In doing so the solutions (congestion, global warming and stress) will subside.

      Kind Regards


      More about “Second Victims” in FLY!

      • Ebeling, Bob 117-9
      • crises, 61–3
      • Just Culture (stepping up) 118–19
      • PTS 254
      • suicide 247


      1. One point of difference that was made in that class was that unique to a train drivers situation is that they are present at the very moment of another persons demise and have absolutely no ability to have changed the event due to physics. Where as emergency service workers almost always arrive after the event.


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