The Airport Movies

When selecting a topic for Mystery Monday, I look at several sources for ideas. Those early posts, such as D. B. Cooper, Amelia Earhart, and the Marfa Lights are mysteries that have intrigued me for years.

Other times, I’ve found fascinating stories from reading a news article. Often the most interesting topics come from the most unlikely places, but I can say with certainty I never expected to find an idea on the Internet Movie Database. This post, like the story of Colonel Archibald Gracie or Robert Lincoln, is most definitely a strange coincidence.

Those of you who are old enough are likely to remember the series of Airport movies from the 1970s. There were four in all—the original Airport (1970), Airport 1975, Airport ’77, and The Concord…Airport ’79.

Each film had one thing in common—a commercial jet carrying a large number of passengers meets with some type of disaster and there is a race against time (and the elements) to save the lives of those onboard.

Despite critical reviews, the films landed some pretty big stars. Among them are Burt Lancaster, Charlton Heston, Olivia de Havilland, Christopher Lee, Cicely Tyson, and George Kennedy. (Kennedy was the only actor to play in all four movies).

Though the stories are a little outlandish, I enjoyed watching them. Then again, I’m also intrigued by the show Air Disasters. (Weird, I know.) Several weeks ago, my husband and I watched the first two Airport movies. I wanted to look up something on IMDB and clicked on the trivia section for Airport ’77. There, I came across a bizarre bit of “trivia” involving the aircraft used in the films.

A Boeing 707 was used in the original Airport. Universal Pictures leased the jet from Flying Tiger Airlines (now merged with Fed-Ex) for the filming of external shots. The plane was returned to Flying Tiger and was later sold, going through various owners. On March 21, 1989, the 707 crashed on a landing approach in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

A Boeing 707. Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, Chantilly, Virginia

In Airport 1975, a Beechcraft Baron had a mid-air collision with a 747. This caused damage to the airliner’s cockpit, resulted in the death of the co-pilot, and seriously injured the pilot.

It seems this small plane was destined for a disastrous ending. On August 24, 1989, it was destroyed due to a (you guessed it) mid-air collision with a Cessna 180 over Tracy, California.

The cockpit of a 747 at the National Air and Space Museum, Washington, DC

The Concorde…Airport ’79 was the last film of the series. At the beginning of the film, the Concorde takes off from Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris and lands at Dulles Airport outside Washington, D.C.

On the return trip to Paris, then later to Moscow, the plane has to dodge a series of attacks that result in damage to the fuselage.

An Air France Concorde on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia
Flight 4590 on its final take-off (Fair Use)

On July 25, 2000, the Air France Concorde used in the film departed Charles de Gaulle Airport as Flight 4590, bound for the United States. (Ironic?) This time the destination was JFK International in New York. Upon takeoff, the plane ran over a piece of debris on the runway. This caused a tire to blow, throwing chunks of rubber into the underside of the left wing and landing gear. A built-in full fuel tank ruptured, causing a fire.

The extensive damage made it impossible for the pilot to control the supersonic jet. It crashed, killing all 109 people on board as well as four on the ground. This tragedy was the beginning of the end for the Concorde.

Of the four movies, the aircraft used in Airport ’77 was the only one to escape a real-life disaster.

Bizarre? Strange coincidence? I’d love to hear your thoughts.