22 December 2004

Airborne Christmas

Sat down to watch Christmas specials last night: Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol first of all; this is the first Christmas special I ever remember watching, except for Amahl and the Night Visitors. The score is so memorable it was in my head years later when Magoo wasn't broadcast for so long. I wanted to see Broadway someday just because of that opening song!

We also watched the Hill Street Blues Christmas ep, "Santa Claustrophobia." There are a lot of memorable scenes in this one, including Furillo talking to a resentful boy and Renko's "Oh, Lordy God, it's Christmas Eve and I'm going to be shot dead in a moose suit" (he's just finished a hospital benefit where he's been dressed as a reindeer), but our favorite scene is where raucous drunk "Buck Naked" exposes himself to Fay Furillo so he'll get arrested and sent to the Michigan Avenue Complex for a turkey dinner. Fay wails (Fay was always wailing) "Can't someone arrest this man?" and Lucy Bates, after gazing at the fellow's "attributes," says drily, "Insufficient evidence, Mrs. Furillo."

By far, however, James' treat of the night was Mercy Mission: The Rescue of Flight 771, a television movie from 1993. Scott Bakula plays Jay Parkins, a rather feckless pilot whose wife wants him to settle down now that they are expecting a baby, but he doesn't want to be trapped in a 9 to 5 type job. To make some money, he and a friend take a job shuttling two crop dusting planes from San Francisco to New Zealand. At Pago Pago, his buddy's plane is disabled, but Jay, needing the cash, flies on, not knowing his instrumentation is damaged. Soon he realizes he's way off course and lost.

Enter an Air New Zealand flight enroute to Auckland. Pilot Gordon Vette is determined not to let the young man die and convinces his crew, passengers, and air traffic control to allow him to help find the plane. By a series of rather unorthodox tricks in a computerized age, Vette locates Jay's plane and is able to guide him through one last obstacle, a violent thunderstorm.

This is a suspenseful movie, despite the fact our leads are stuck in aircraft seats for 3/4 of the movie. Bakula is great in the lead, but it's Robert Loggia's irascible Vette who really shines.

If you're able to see the movie, look for two men cheering and hugging each other in the tower when the plain lands; one is very tall with light hair and the other is shorter. These are the real Jay Parkins (real name Jay Prochnow) and Gordon Vette.

Vette, I didn't realize until "googling" him, is quite a "name" in commercial aviation. He wrote a classic book, Impact Erebus, on the Mount Erebus air disaster in which a New Zealand flight crashed into a mountain in Antarctica.

Here's a great review of the movie at Air Odyssey, which includes the differences in the film and the real life story. (Also an image link to something that looks like a DVD cover, except the movie's not on DVD; a great pity.)

I also found Mayday in December, an account of the incident and how celestial navigation was used to locate Prochnow's plane.

1 comment:

Taylor said...

I totally agree with you about "Mercy Mission: The Rescue of Flight 771". It's a wonderful and suspenseful movie! I just watched it tonight and was totally blown away at the end of the movie when I realized it was a true story! I went directly to the internet to do a search and find out more. This might be a made for TV movie, but it's definitely worth watching. Thanks for your links and background information.