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Tales of Courage and Endurance

Aired August 17, 2012 - 15:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to the weekend edition of our program. I'm Christiane Amanpour, and this week we're looking back at some of the most powerful and indeed moving stories that we've covered over the past few months.

Tonight we have two such tales of courage, of resourcefulness and of incredible human endurance. In a moment, we'll revisit an incident that is seared into so many of our collective memories.


CHESLEY "SULLY" SULLENBERGER, LANDED PLANE ON NEW YORK'S HUDSON RIVER: What's over to our right? Anything in New Jersey, maybe Teterboro?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Yes, off to your right side is Teterboro Airport. You want to try to go to Teterboro?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cactus 1549, turn right 2-8-0. You can land runway one at Teterboro.

SULLENBERGER: We can't do it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Which runway would you like at Teterboro?

SULLENBERGER: We're going to be in the Hudson.


AMANPOUR: I'll speak with the pilot of that flight, Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger. But first, a story of piracy and survival.

Debbie Calitz and Bruno Pelizarri were captured by Somali pirates in October 2010. And they were held hostage for 20 months as the pirates demanded a multimillion-dollar ransom.

I spoke with them just after they were liberated. It was their first interview, in fact, shortly before they returned to their home and to their families.

And I asked Debbie what it like when the Somali pirates stormed her ship.


DEBORAH CALITZ, PIRATE HOSTAGE: It felt like it was a dream. It wasn't real and I could see there was more fear in their eyes than we had. And I was afraid they were going to panic.


CALITZ: Yes, surreal.

AMANPOUR: When you say you were --

PELIZARRI: I'd just been on night shift.

AMANPOUR: Sorry, go ahead. Go ahead, Bruno.

PELIZARRI: Oh, I'd just finished the night shift. So I was asleep when Debbie woke me up, telling me, there's a boarding party arriving. And the next thing she said, "It's pirates." What do you do? What do you say?

AMANPOUR: What did you say? What did you do?

PELIZARRI: Put a pair of jeans on and went on deck to face them, of course.

CALITZ: And we tried to calm them down, because if they panic, they can shoot. So we told them, don't worry, everything's fine. We're sitting down. Just relax. You'll be OK. We're not going to fight you. But we have to stop the boat.

AMANPOUR: Must have been terrifying.

CALITZ: It happened so fast, so quickly, there was no time to be scared. We just had to get off and just go with them.

AMANPOUR: So what happened then? You were there for 20 months. What were the conditions of your confinement for 20 months?

CALITZ: Terrible.

PELIZARRI: Can you imagine being put into a cell worse than a prison I can think of, darkness, with a tin for ablutions, with no form of --

CALITZ: They were filthy. The places were filthy we were put in. Sometimes we had to sleep on the floor. Sometimes we had a mattress. They treated us -- they wouldn't touch our bowls. We were treated like untouchables. And we were humiliated. We were degraded. They did everything they could. They psychologically tortured us.

AMANPOUR: In what way?

PELIZARRI: You had these threats hanging over your head all the time.

CALITZ: They would come in early hours of the morning and shine a torch, a light in our face. They wouldn't say a word. They would just stare at us. We asked them, what? What do you want? And they'd just look at us. Then they'd walk out. And then they'd come at 6:00 and they'd bang outside the door. And then they'd cock their rifles.

And we don't -- we didn't know if they were going to kill us. They wouldn't tell us anything about what was going on. They told we were lying all the time. We wanted money. They wanted money. If they didn't have money, they would kill us. So cold.

AMANPOUR: In the meantime --

CALITZ: We didn't know from one day to the next -- yes?

AMANPOUR: And in the meantime, Bruno, your sister, Vera, was in touch with them quite regularly, sometimes once a week. We have a little bit of audiotape of some of her conversation. Let's just listen for a little bit.


PELIZARRI: What do we want from our government? We demand our -- we demand our freedom.

VERA: You demand your freedom from the government? Bruns, the government doesn't pay. And I'm trying to collect money for your freedom.

PELIZARRI: Vera? Vera?

VERA: Oh, my God.


AMANPOUR: So, Bruno, that was Vera talking to you, in fact, during negotiations. What was it -- what's it like for you now to hear that played back?

PELIZARRI: Quite heartrending.

CALITZ: We remember (inaudible).

PELIZARRI: Yes. And get on to the -- get on to the questions said by them. It's so upsetting. You've got so many things to say and you can't.

AMANPOUR: It must be amazing to know how your family was so involved and so, you know, stuck to it for all these months, trying to get you out.

CALITZ: They didn't give up.

PELIZARRI: At least it gave us hope, that there was people out there, that there had been contact.

AMANPOUR: Did you know --

CALITZ: We knew nothing. They kept us in the dark.

AMANPOUR: Yes, you just said you knew nothing. I was going to say did you know that the kidnappers were asking Vera for, you know, $10 million?


CALITZ: We weren't sure how much exactly. And we weren't sure whether -- how often the communication was happening. We thought every two months there was a bit of communication going on. That's all we thought. That's all we knew.

PELIZARRI: Yes, outside they were asking for $24 million, $8 million, $10 million, just so we told them, we're no celebrities. We are just workers, just normal citizens.

AMANPOUR: I know the -- all the governments involved --

PELIZARRI: They've got the wrong people.

AMANPOUR: All the governments involved, the South African government, the Italian government, your Parli Italian, Bruno, the Somali government, refused to talk about ransoms. Do you think a ransom was paid?

CALITZ: We don't know. We're not sure. All we know was that it was a coordinated rescue between the Somali government and the Italians. And the Italian people were wonderful. They looked after us so well. They put us up in a place and they kept us feeling safe, all the way. They were really, really good to us.

AMANPOUR: Well, what was the rescue? Did they storm the place? Were you handed over? How did that happen?

CALITZ: It was very quiet. We weren't sure right up until the time that -- we didn't believe it, because they had lied to us so many times before that.

PELIZARRI: Three times they told us we were leaving for South Africa.

CALITZ: Yes, they would drive us for 12 hours, from one place to another. We'd stay there for a few days, maybe a week, maybe just one day. And then they'd take us back again, throw us back in the room again and not tell us anything. So we didn't believe them. And we had -- we had decided, we're not going to believe them until we actually see the plane.

So that when we were rescued, we heard -- as soon as we heard the Italian people on the phone, we were in the car. We thought, OK. Maybe, just maybe this might be real. And when we got to the boarding, the Somali boarding, the Italian boarding that we went to, and we saw the Italian people standing there, we knew. We knew we were safe.


AMANPOUR: Did you think you were ever going to make it out?


AMANPOUR: Did you ever think you'd make it out? Did you think you would die there?

CALITZ: We were never sure. Maybe. We weren't sure. We were never sure.

PELIZARRI: Always in our thoughts.

CALITZ: It's like being on death row. I understand what it feels like to be on death row. We know what that feels like. It's terrible. It's like a nightmare. It doesn't seem real.

AMANPOUR: Do you feel -- ?

CALITZ: We didn't believe it could happen to us.

AMANPOUR: Do you feel the nightmare's over now?

CALITZ: Yes, yes. Our dream has changed now. We've got a new reality now.

PELIZARRI: Most different.

CALITZ: A new dream to look forward to. We're back together with our family. And I think that this, it's going to do a lot of good for a lot of people. And that's what we want. If only this war would stop. It needs to stop around the world. There needs to be peace throughout the world.

AMANPOUR: You had been in Tanzania, looking for work, actually, working when you were trying to get back to South Africa for a holiday on this boat. Will you move back to Tanzania? Or are you just going to stay in South Africa now?

PELIZARRI: Well, my boat is based in Dar es Salaam. It's my home. Everything's there at the moment. I've got to go back to her and sort her out first.

AMANPOUR: What has this done to you --

PELIZARRI: I'm looking forward -- it's a new life. Yes, it's a new life. I'm a new person.

CALITZ: We'll never be the same again. It's change our life forever.

AMANPOUR: You have two grandchildren who were born while you were in captivity. Have you seen them yet?

PELIZARRI: No. Not yet.

CALITZ: We've seen one. And we've seen photographs of the other.

AMANPOUR: So what are you looking forward to most right now?

CALITZ: Being together with all our family, with everybody. It's been so hectic with people and so many people are out there supporting us. And that is great. Everybody has been so wonderful to us. It's so overwhelming, what's happening.


PELIZARRI: The dictionary hasn't got the words for it. I think we need new words in it.

AMANPOUR: Well, you have both been very, very expressive. Debbie and Bruno, thank you very much for telling us your story.

CALITZ: Thank you. Thank you for letting us.

PELIZARRI: Thank you for giving us the opportunity, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Take care.


AMANPOUR: And when we return, another profile in courage as we meet the world's most famous and admired pilot, who somehow managed to land a plane in New York's Hudson River. We'll be right back.


AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. Remember that incredible emergency landing of US Airways flight 1549 in the chilly waters of the Hudson River here in New York? It was four years ago, birds had flown into the engines and they could have caused a major catastrophe. But listen to the voice of Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, as reacts to the disaster.


SULLENBERGER: This is Cactus 1549. Hit birds, we've lost thrust in both engines. We're turning back towards LaGuardia.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cactus 1549, if we can get it to you, do you want to try to land runway 1-3?

SULLENBERGER: We're unable. We may end up in the Hudson.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, Cactus 1549, it's going to be left traffic to runway 3-1.

SULLENBERGER: Unable. What's over to our right? Anything in New Jersey, maybe Teterboro?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Yes, off to your right side is Teterboro Airport. You want to try to go to Teterboro?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cactus 1549, turn right 2-8-0. You can land runway one at Teterboro.

SULLENBERGER: We can't do it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Which runway would you like at Teterboro?

SULLENBERGER: We're going to be in the Hudson.


AMANPOUR: It's really still chilling to listen to. And Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger instantly became an international hero on that day, January 15th, 2009, as he and his copilot, Jeff Skiles, and three flight attendants saved the lives of all the 150 passengers onboard.

He's an airline safety expert and the author of a new book, "Making a Difference: Stories of Vision and Courage from America's Leaders." Captain, welcome to our program.

SULLENBERGER: Thank you, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: It gives me chills. Does it give you chills to hear that again?

SULLENBERGER: Oh, each time I've heard it, and over many times, I still begin to feel the same things I felt that day. It takes me right back to that incredible moment.

AMANPOUR: And here we have in our real magic table, we have that picture. Can you tell us what was -- I mean, who do you recognize, what do you remember from that day?

SULLENBERGER: Well, there's one passenger in particular, Eric Stevenson (ph), who was actually living in Paris at the time and had come back to the States to visit his family, was on the left wing. Of course, I'm still in the aircraft at this point, passing life vests, jackets and blankets to those outside.

And the last three of us to leave the aircraft in order were our A flight attendant, Don Dent (ph), then first officer Jeff Skiles, and then me. And by the time I left the airplane, there were ferries all around us, the rescue was full underway.

AMANPOUR: Did you think that you would get out?

SULLENBERGER: Yes. I was confident that once we hit the birds that I could find a way to solve the problem. But it was apparent to me that this was going to be instantly the challenge of a lifetime.

AMANPOUR: And was there a process? Did the -- do you recall the brain mechanically turning, or was it just instantaneous?

SULLENBERGER: It required great effort. It was such a shock after almost 30 years of routine airline flying where we always work very hard to plan and anticipate and have alternatives for every course of action and work hard never to be surprised by anything. This was unlike anything I'd experienced for 42 years.

This was the crisis of a lifetime, and I knew it as it was happening, and my body responded physiologically in a very human way.

AMANPOUR: Which was?

SULLENBERGER: My -- I could feel my blood pressure, my pulse shoot up. I sensed my perceptual field narrow. But I had the experience and the discipline to compartmentalize and focus on the task at hand and try to ignore the stress. But it -- to ignore the stress required great effort.

AMANPOUR: You needed, on the one hand, the adrenaline to kick in, but you couldn't let it overwhelm you.

SULLENBERGER: Absolutely. And so, I had to very quickly solve a problem that we had never specifically trained for. So, I took what I did know. I innovated, and I applied it in a new way to solve this new problem.

AMANPOUR: Did your military background help you?

SULLENBERGER: Absolutely, yes. Especially flying high performance jet fighters in challenging situations gives one the skills, the judgment and the confidence, quite frankly, to be able to do something like this.

AMANPOUR: And you said -- I mean, as I said, you became instantly a hero around the world, but you didn't come back or you didn't survive it unscarred. You had some post-traumatic stress.

SULLENBERGER: Oh, we all did. At first, it was difficult to sleep more than a few hours. In the first several days, I would try to read a newspaper article and end up rereading the same sentence five times without comprehension and finally giving up on the idea.

But with the passage of time, we recover; our sleep patterns return to normal and I was able to process this, think about it, put it in perspective and make it a part of myself.

AMANPOUR: And what has it been like to be thrust into this, everybody wanting a piece of you, everybody wanting to talk to you, you being on the circuit, so to speak?

SULLENBERGER: It changed our lives instantly, completely, forever. We just didn't know how much. And it's become gradually more apparent to us in the last three years, these mind-bending three years, when we've met the president, received an award from Prince Philip in Buckingham Palace, received the Legion of Honor from the Republic of France.

I've met the passengers and heard their stories of gratitude. It's been a life-changing event for all of us. And that's part of why it led me to this book.

AMANPOUR: To this book. I was going to say, "Making a Difference," and it's about leadership, and you've chosen several American icons to talk about leadership.

SULLENBERGER: And these concepts are things I've been thinking about and pondering for decades, and things I tried to practice at the airline to become more expert at leading a team of individuals who start each week of flying, sometimes not even knowing each other.

And we very quickly form a team and have collective bonds, roles and responsibilities and a shared sense of responsibility for the outcome. And it's this kind of team-building, this kind of leadership by example, this kind of -- this sort of being willing to serve a cause greater than oneself and one's own needs that led to this book.

And of course, the event three years ago gave me the ability to talk to people who have done amazing things and touched people's lives, and I've heard their stories. And I had to put them on the page and share them.

AMANPOUR: And we said that you are an airline safety expert. What do you think right now about airline safety?

And let's just take, for instance, the thing that shocked us all in the last couple of weeks, and that's the discovery of a new and more sophisticated attempt to make an underwear bomb by terrorists in Yemen. How frightening is that for people like yourself, people like pilots and airline staff?

SULLENBERGER: It's a concern because it's an ongoing attempt, a constant game of wits, an arms race, essentially, to develop weapons that can hurt us that we might not be able to discover in time. Fortunately, we've been able to thwart the most recent efforts.

It is a concern, but I think it's -- it's still a small chance that that would happen on any particular flight. We're still very safe. We made aviation safer. My concerns, actually --

AMANPOUR: You say it's a small chance, but everybody was so worried because they're saying now that this latest one didn't really have any metal and it could have gone through --


AMANPOUR: -- the magnetometer.

SULLENBERGER: Right. But still, when you look at the risk of flying globally, this is still a relatively small part of it. So my concern is actually more pedestrian, more quotidian. It's the everyday attention to detail.

It's the more familiar threats that we need to make sure that we always proactively look for and mediate, and that's fighting fatigue, making sure that our pilots are experienced enough and creating a robust safety system in which we can operate and which can tolerate the occasional failure or the occasional error.

AMANPOUR: Well, you obviously think that we don't really have that system right now, that there are tired pilots, that the system is stretched.

SULLENBERGER: Yes, and that's particularly true in this country in terms of the regional carriers. They just don't have the same level of safety that the large jet major airlines have. Their pilots are, on average, not as experienced. They don't have the same safety audit systems in place sometimes.

And so, it's important that we try to achieve what we in this country call one level of safety, across the board, across all the airlines, large and small.

AMANPOUR: But you've also been quite critical about the -- for instance, the TSA, the security at airports. For instance, as a Brit, when I go through Heathrow Airport now, you don't actually have to take off your shoes unless it looks like they've got some metal.

There are all sorts of things that have been slightly relaxed around the world, but here still, in every airport, it's like you're a potential walking bomb, no matter who you are going through. I mean, Henry Kissinger was just patted down these last few days. I mean, he's a really well-known figure. Do you have issues with TSA at the moment?

SULLENBERGER: I've been saying for some time that the one-size-fits- all approach isn't the best use of our limited resources, that a much more intelligent approach is literally an intelligence-based approach, a risk- based approach, and that we're much better looking at people's behaviors and not only looking for things.

AMANPOUR: And do we have the best people manning the TSA brigade?

SULLENBERGER: From what I've understood, the current TSA administrator, John Pistole, is off to a good start. And he is beginning to address many of the issues that we talked about. So, I'm optimistic.

AMANPOUR: Do you fly anymore?

SULLENBERGER: I fly all the time. I mean, I --

AMANPOUR: I mean pilot.

SULLENBERGER: -- as a passenger. But I do -- I retired from the airline two years ago, but I didn't really retire. Just traded that one profession for about four others, as a speaker, an author, a consultant for safety, for industry and as a CBS News aviation safety expert.

But I do fly for fun on short-range business trips and family trips when I can. It's still something I enjoy. It's a life-long passion for me.

AMANPOUR: All right. Captain Sullenberger, thank you very much indeed for joining me.

SULLENBERGER: Thanks for having me on.


AMANPOUR: Captain Sullenberger's heroics may seem straight out of Hollywood, but as we all know, they were the real thing. Too often, however, it's the easy stereotype of a hero or a villain that gets the screen time. And that's especially true when it comes to depicting African men.

Shattering that stereotype when we come back.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, you've seen this sort of mayhem on the movie screen, the way Hollywood portrays African men. Now imagine a world where those stereotypes are shattered. An organization called Mama Hope has humanitarian programs throughout Africa and has made a little hit movie of its own on the Internet. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am an African man.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am an African man.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am an African man.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am an African man.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But do you know who we are?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you've only seen us in Hollywood movies, this is what you may think of us.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We shoot our machine guns from trucks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We shoot our machine guns from boats.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When we run out of bullets, we shoot rocket launchers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are obsessed with violence.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We hate smiling. Smiling is stupid.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are fantastic role models.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But you don't really think of us that way. Do you?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are likable and friendly guys.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we are even on Facebook.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are more than a stereotype.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's change the perception.



AMANPOUR: That is the changing face of Africa, and that is our program. Thank you for watching and goodbye from New York.