NEW YORK - Mayor Michael Bloomberg presented keys to the city to US Airways Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger and his crew Monday, thanking them for preventing "an awful tragedy" when Flight 1549 ditched in the Hudson River.
"It is now my great pleasure to introduce five real American heroes," Bloomberg said at the City Hall ceremony. "I certainly hope you feel at home here. And you should. New York City ... is a city full of heroes."
Sullenberger ditched his airliner in the icy Hudson River on Jan. 15 after a flock of birds disabled both the plane's engines just minutes after takeoff from LaGuardia Airport. All 155 people aboard survived.
The key to the city is a replica of a 19th-century skeleton key that once opened a door at City Hall. The gold-plated pewter key, 5.75 inches long, is a symbol that the city's gates will always be open to the recipient.
"If this key makes me a New Yorker, I hope it does, because I'd love to be considered a New Yorker," said flight attendant Sheila Dail.
The key comes with no benefit other than bragging rights; Bloomberg has given out about 130 in seven years. "I can't think of a safer group of people to give the keys to, actually," the mayor joked.
The presentation came after a weekend media blitz for the hero pilot, co-pilot and three flight attendants. An interview with them was broadcast Sunday on CBS' "60 Minutes," and they appeared Monday on ABC's "Good Morning America" and CBS' "The Early Show."
During the event with the mayor, Sullenberger emphasized that while he's gotten a lot of the credit for the emergency landing, it was a team effort.
He and his crew also thanked the city and the people who mobilized the rescue on the Hudson.
"We got ourselves into the river, but you all got us out of the river," said first officer and co-pilot Jeff Skiles.
Bloomberg, presenting the honors on behalf of "8.3 million grateful New Yorkers," said the city felt "a strong connection" to the story - dubbed the miracle on the Hudson. He said in saving every passenger, the five crew members lived "an ideal that ... we all aspire to."
Said the mayor: "Thank you for sparing our city and so many families from an awful tragedy."
The mayor, who called Sullenberger "Captain Cool," knows a few things himself about coping with aviation emergencies. He is a trained pilot who once crashed a helicopter that had caught fire and years later had to struggle to land a plane after its propeller failed during flight.
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