This is your copilot speaking

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Jeff Skiles (center) attended the Super Bowl with other members of Flight 1549’s crew, including pilot Chesley Sullenberger (left) and flight attendant Donna Dent. Photo: Jamie Squire/ Getty Images

Here at On Wisconsin Magazine, we’re used to being the journalistic top dog. After all, we’re easily America’s most popular UW-themed, non-sports publication. We have a circulation of 320,000 and a readership that numbers well into the dozens. We’re way bigger than, for instance, the English department newsletter. So it’s always a surprise when we have trouble landing an interview.

Such was the case with Jeff Skiles ’84. Last January, Skiles became the most famous copilot in the world when he helped land US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River. This is just the sort of thing that alumni magazines were created for: reflected glory, the chance to tell Badgers that they went to the same school as someone really, really, really famous. So I set out to interview Skiles for our Spring 2009 issue, due to go to press four weeks after the accident.

It took just a week to get hold of Skiles, but he mentioned that there might be a hiccup. “The investigation is still going on, so I can’t really speak about it right now,” he told me. “Try again in three weeks.”

That meant missing On Wisconsin’s deadline and that his story would first go to other media outlets: 60 Minutes, for example. And ABC News. And Late Night with David Letterman, plus appearances at the Super Bowl, the Obama inauguration, and every TV station in the Madison market. Are they really a bigger deal than we are?

Well, obviously.

When I finally pinned Skiles down for that interview, I asked him what it was like to suddenly be so famous, and he admitted it was weird. “But in a few weeks, it’ll all go back to normal,” he said.

Which is when we got him.

Published in the Summer 2009 issue

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