Newswise — FT. LAUDERDALE-DAVIE, Fla.– The date Jan. 15, 2009 will forever be ingrained in the minds of Chesley B. (Sully) Sullenberger III and the 155 people whose lives he saved when he and his crew safely guided U.S. Airways Flight 1549 to an emergency water landing in New York City’s frigid Hudson River.

As a result, “Miracle on the Hudson” became a defining moment in history and Sullenberger became an international hero. He has since dedicated his career to improving airline safety and performance. But he’s not the only one who survived that fateful event to focus on saving and improving the lives of others.

Alberto Panero from Pembroke Pines, Fla., was a passenger on the Airbus A320, when the plane engines lost thrust following a bird strike and Sullenberger took charge. At the time, Panero was a 26-year-old medical student at Nova Southeastern University’s (NSU) College of Osteopathic Medicine, and he used his training to help some of his fellow passengers safely exit the plane.

Five years later, Panero, is a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician in Sacramento, Calif., and is devoted to helping patients recover from injuries.

Panero surprised Sullenberger at NSU’s undergraduate commencement ceremonies on May 10 and thanked his hero for saving his life. The two had not seen each other since 2009. Click here to view a YouTube video of Panero and Sullenberger reuniting.

“One thing I learned through the experience of being on that plane that day is that sometimes in life you will encounter individuals that, even for the briefest of moments have the ability to profoundly impact your life,” said Panero. “This would be the obvious understatement when referring to the brief yet undeniably powerful impact Captain Sullenberger has had on my life. Because of the gifted skills Captain Sullenberger had as a pilot, I am able to use the skills I developed through my education and training from Nova Southeastern University to directly impact lives.”

Sullenberger was on hand at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla., to deliver the keynote address to the more than 900 graduates and their guests when Panero entered the stage, leaving the crowd in cheers while the two enjoyed a heartwarming embrace.

“Who knew that on Jan. 15, 2009, there would be a shark in the Hudson river?” Sullenberger said, referring to the NSU mascot, as the crowd laughed and cheered.

Sullenberger ended his address with simple, yet profound words of wisdom.

“No matter how dire your situation may be, know that further action is almost always possible. At the end of our lives, we may simply as ourselves a question, ‘Did I make a difference?’ My wish for each of you is that your answer will be ‘yes,’” he said.

NSU President George L. Hanbury II, Ph.D., presented Sullenberger with an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters on behalf of NSU’s Board of Trustees.

“While both of these exemplary men have followed different paths, they share a bond that will last a lifetime,” said President Hanbury. “We are very proud to be a part of this special moment for Captain Sullenberger, Dr. Panero, and our graduating students, all of whom have much to celebrate. Sully’s heroism and leadership set the perfect tone for our graduating seniors who will embark on their first career or perhaps move on to graduate school.”

The ceremony included candidates from NSU’s Farquhar College of Arts and Sciences; Abraham S. Fischler School of Education; College of Health Care Sciences; College of Nursing; H. Wayne Huizenga School of Business and Entrepreneurship; and Institute for the Study of Human Service, Health, and Justice.

Sullenberger is currently an aviation safety expert and accident investigator, serves as a CBS News aviation and safety expert, and is the founder and chief executive officer of Safety Reliability Methods, Inc., a company dedicated to management, safety, performance, and reliability consulting.

Panero earned both his bachelor of science degree in biological sciences and doctor of osteopathic medicine degree from NSU, also participating on the university’s soccer team. He completed his physical medicine and rehabilitation residency, ultimately serving as chief resident at University of Miami-Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami. He now is a sports medicine fellow at University of California-Davis.

Emma Magner, a marine biology major with a minor in Spanish, from Belleville, Ill., was NSU’s student speaker at commencement. She is one of 19 of this year’s outstanding student award recipients. She is a member of two honor societies, Delta Epsilon Iota and Tri Beta Biological Academic Honors, and has been on the Dean’s List all 10 semesters at NSU.

SGA President Daniel Brookins received the prestigious “James Farquhar Award” from Brad Williams, Ed.D., vice president for student affairs and dean of the College of Undergraduate Studies.

For a full listing of all Outstanding Student award recipients and more information on NSU’s Commencement ceremonies please visit NSU Commencement 2014


About Nova Southeastern University: Situated on 314 beautiful acres in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, Nova Southeastern University (NSU) is a dynamic fully accredited research institution dedicated to providing high-quality educational programs at all levels. NSU is a not-for-profit independent institution with 27,000 students. NSU awards associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, specialist, doctoral and first-professional degrees in a wide range of fields. NSU is classified as a research university with “high research activity” by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, and it is one of only 37 universities nationwide to also be awarded Carnegie’s Community Engagement Classification. For more information, please visit Celebrating 50 years of academic excellence!