Updated from 2:44 p.m. ESTCHARLOTTE, N.C. -- In the first public statement from a pilot of US Airways ( LCC) flight 1549, first officer Jeff Skiles has thanked his union for assisting him in the aftermath of the flight's emergency landing on the Hudson River on Thursday. "You all need to know that when you are at the weakest, most vulnerable time of your airline career, USAPA will be there to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you," Skiles said in a letter to fellow members of the U.S. Airline Pilots Association. A copy of the letter was obtained by TheStreet.com. "I have incurred a debt to these people that can never be repaid. I can only say thank you, and tell you that you have made a difference in my life," wrote Skiles, 49, who joined US Airways in 1986. Skiles handled the takeoff and was at the controls when the birds flew into the engine of the Airbus A320. At that point, he handed the flying off to the captain, Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger. "Your aircraft," said Skiles, according to the cockpit voice recorder. Then, with Sullenberger at the controls, Skiles attempted to restart the engines and began working through emergency landing procedures. "On Thursday, many of fellow union members dropped everything, postponed their lives and rushed to New York to aid Sully, Donna, Sheila, Doreen and me in our time of greatest need," Skiles wrote, referring to Sullenberger and the three veteran flight attendants: Donna Dent, Shelia Dail and Doreen Welsh. All three have at least 26 years experience with US Airways: Welsh has 38 years experience.
"Before we even left the ferry dock where the boats dropped us off, Dan Britt (La Guardia vice chairman) was on the scene coordinating with the police," he wrote. At the hospital, Skiles wrote, three union leaders and the USAPA attorney arrived to help out, and later, at the hotel, the union accident investigation team arrived quickly. Skiles personally thanks a dozen union leaders. One was by his side through his entire interview with the National Transportation Safety Board, he writes. Additionally, a representative of the Air Line Pilots Association from United ( UAUA)representative greeted his plane in Chicago and offered to drive Skiles wherever he needed to go. Last year, USAPA replaced ALPA, which has represented US Airways pilots since 1951, in a bitter union election. Additionally, despite the conflict, shortly after the crash landing, union president Steve Bradford "received a personal email from ALPA president John Prater offering assistance and expressing concern for the well-being of our crew," according to a letter USAPA sent to its members. In his letter, Skiles noted that so much had occurred following the accident that by Friday, he though the accident had occurred three or four days earlier. "It was on the second day when I made a comment to Valerie Wells (a fellow pilot and USAPA committee member) about the accident being three or four days ago. She said, 'What do you mean? It was just yesterday afternoon.' The enormity of the USAPA effort had made me lose track of time. It hit me then. I looked around and realized that these people, all of them, had set aside their lives to rush to my aid.
"They didn't have to do this. They didn't want to spend their days in the LGA Marriott investigating an accident. They all dropped what they were doing and postponed their lives to help me," Skiles wrote. "I cannot tell you how deeply, deeply moved I am by this and how eternally grateful I am to each and every one of them."