Movie Editor's Blog

Movie Editor's Blog

The real life story behind the Flight plane crash

The plane crash sequence in ‘Flight’ is jaw-dropping, but bonkers.

After steering the plane through a particularly nasty bout of turbulence, Denzel Washington’s half-cut captain Whip has a nap, only to wake up with the plane nose-diving.

To land the knackered aircraft, he rolls it upside down to stop it plummeting to the ground, before flipping it the right side up and crash landing in a field. He saves 96 of the 102 passengers onboard and is hailed a hero, until the authorities discover he had drugs and alcohol in his blood...

The crash in ‘Flight’ is one of the most realistic ever captured on film, though director Robert Zemeckis has had some practice after helming a similar scene in ‘Cast Away’.

As the crew explains in our exclusive making-of video, the intense effect was created by building the entire plane cabin - which weighed 30,000 pounds - and strapping it to a giant rotating gimbal (a piece of kit that pivots and rotates around an object, in this case, the fake cabin).

It means the passengers and crew of the plane were actually hanging upside down – those panicked looks aren’t 100 per cent acting.

They filmed from both sides of the cabin and spliced it together using low-key CGI. The effect is incredibly disorientating, both for the audience, and we’re sure the cast.

To the uninitiated, Whip’s beer-fuelled maneuver might sound a bit far-fetched, but it’s actually rooted in a (sadly far more tragic) real-life story.

Writer John Gatins based the scene loosely on Alaska Airlines Flight 261, which crashed into the Pacific Ocean en route to San Francisco in 2000. As in the film, pilot Ted Thompson amazingly rolled the stricken craft upside down to try and slow its descent.

According to black box recordings cited in the official report of the accident, one crew member says: “at least upside down we're flyin’”. A similar version of this line is used in the film.

Sadly, the heroic efforts of Thompson and co-pilot First Officer Bill Tansky weren’t enough to stop the plane crashing into the Pacific and killing all 88 people aboard.

As in the film, the cause of the crash was fatigue of a jackscrew due to overuse and poor maintenance.

Unlike ‘Flight’ though, the heroism of the pilots was not in doubt. They were posthumously awarded the Airline Pilots Association Gold Medal for Heroism.

‘Flight’ is in cinemas now.