Ovation: A Real-Life Ted Striker! Passenger Lands Plane After Pilot Falls Ill.
One of my favorite movies of all time is 1980’s Airplane! This spoof of the disaster movies made popular in the 1970s contained extremely clever writing, superb comedic timing and a wonderful ensemble casting including both unknown and popular talent of the time.
Still craving for the love of his life, Ted Striker, played by then relatively unknown character actor Robert Hays, follows Elaine (the adorable Julie Hagerty) onto the flight that she is working on as a member of the cabin crew. As the plane is about to take off, we hear …
Hanging Lady: Nervous?
Ted Striker: Yes.
Hanging Lady: First time?
Ted Striker: No, I’ve been nervous lots of times.
Elaine doesn’t want to be with Ted anymore, but when the crew and passengers fall ill from food poisoning, all eyes are on Ted, an ex-pilot who’s now afraid to fly.
Dr. Rumack: The life of everyone on board depends upon just one thing: finding someone back there who can not only fly this plane, but who didn’t have fish for dinner.
Dr. Rumack, portrayed by the late Leslie Nielsen, delivered some of the funniest lines and got the biggest laughs in this fast paced movie. The fact that a passenger was being asked to safely land the plane, with only instructions from the ground crew, was supposed to be absurd. And the jokes just kept coming!
Dr. Rumack: Can you fly this plane, and land it?
Ted Striker: Surely you can’t be serious.
Dr. Rumack: I am serious… and don’t call me Shirley.
Last Tuesday evening, however, a passenger did just that. A small Cessna plane was quietly gliding over eastern England with only two people on board … the pilot and a passenger … when, just like in the movie, the pilot suddenly fell ill at the controls. He quickly made an emergency call to a nearby airport but it was clear that the passenger would have to land the plane.
Dr. Rumack: You’d better tell the Captain we’ve got to land as soon as we can. This woman has to be gotten to a hospital.
Elaine Dickinson: A hospital? What is it?
Dr. Rumack: It’s a big building with patients, but that’s not important right now.
Two flight instructors were called to give the panicking passenger a quick flying lesson and, as the sun set and the airport grew dark, the passenger was instructed to fly the plane over the runway to familiarize himself with his landing target again and again. Then, on the fourth pass he managed to safely set the two-seater plane on the ground, just over an hour after the initial mayday call was made.
Sadly, the pilot did not survive. Neither his name nor his illness has been disclosed but police are not treating his death as suspicious. The passenger, on the other hand, could be considered quite the hero. There is no telling how many lives he saved by landing that small plane at the airport rather than crashing into a surrounding residential neighborhood.
Of course, Ted Striker overcomes his fears and lands the plane in the movie, too. His newfound courage, naturally, makes Elaine fall in love with him again and the two share a kiss as the music swells and the closing credits roll.
Did you enjoy Airplane!? Could you land an airplane?
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