“Just when we really needed a miracle, we got one,” said Michael Daly in the New York Daily News. US Airways pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger III remained calm and made a perfect landing in the Hudson River after his plane was disabled. The sight of the passengers—“shaken and chilled, but blessedly alive and unhurt“—was soothing for a nation struggling through such tumultuous times.

Sullenberger pulled off an amazing feat, said Matt Phillips in The Wall Street Journal. He guided his Airbus A320 to an “incredible, fatality-free splashdown” after he hit a flock of geese and lost his engines. But those who knew him were hardly surprised. “Judging from his resume”—Air Force pilot, accident investigator, safety consultant—Sullenberger has an “abiding passion” for safety, and it served his 150 passengers well.

It’s right to call Sullenberger a hero for his “mental composure and technical skill,” said James Fallows in The Atlantic. But giving him all the credit would obscure the real reason for the airlines’ “extraordinarily safe record.” All pilots “are made to develop and maintain reflex-like responses” to disasters most will never encounter in their whole flying careers, and we have all just witnessed one example of the payoff.