Airport (1977)

Forty-five years ago today, the film Airport ’77 premiered. Absolutely star-studded, lavish, action packed, and 70s glamorous. You should really watch this movie.

Title: Airport 1977
Directed by: Jerry Jameson
Produced by: Jennings Lang, William Frye
Screenplay by: Michael Scheff, David Spector
Story by: H. A. L. Craig, Charles Kuenstle
Based on: Airport, based on the novel by Arthur Hailey
Starring: Jack Lemmon, Lee Grant, James Stewart, George Kennedy, Brenda Vaccaro, Christopher Lee, Darren McGavin, Joseph Cotten, Olivia de Havilland
Music by: John Cacavas
Cinematography: Philip H. Lathrop, Rexford Metz
Costume Design: Edith Head, Burton Miller
Art Direction: George C. Webb, Mickey S. Michaels
Edited by: Robert Watts, J. Terry Williams
Color process: Technicolor
Production Company: Universal Pictures
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Release date: March 11, 1977
Running time: 113 minutes
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $6 million
Box office: $30 million

Wealthy philanthropist Philip Stevens is having invited guests flown in his luxurious privately-owned Boeing 747-100, Stevens’s Flight 23, to his Palm Beach, Florida estate. Aboard are his estranged adult daughter and her young son. Priceless artwork from Stevens’s private collection destined for his new museum is also on the jetliner. The collection has motivated a group of thieves led by co-pilot Bob Chambers to hijack the aircraft.

Mid-flight, Captain Don Gallagher is lured from the cockpit and rendered unconscious. A sleeping gas secretly installed pre-flight is released into the cabin, knocking out unprotected crew and passengers. Chambers, flying to a small deserted island to offload the art treasures, drops the plane below radar range causing Stevens’ Flight 23 to “disappear” in the Bermuda Triangle. Descending to virtual wave-top altitude, Flight 23 heads into a fog bank, reducing visibility. Minutes later, a large offshore drilling platform emerges from the haze, and Flight 23 is headed straight for it.

Chambers attempts to avert a collision, but the wing clips the structure’s tower, igniting an engine. Chambers extinguishes the fire but a sudden loss of airspeed threatens to stall the airplane. As he struggles to maintain control, the passengers begin waking up to the unfolding disaster. Chambers is unable to maintain his airspeed; the plane stalls and crashes into the water, floating momentarily before quietly slipping below the surface.

The plane settles in relatively shallow water that is above the plane’s crush depth, though water pressure gradually compromises the fuselage. Many passengers are injured, some seriously. Chambers, the only surviving hijacker, reveals the plane is two hundred miles off course, meaning search and rescue efforts will be focused in the wrong area. As a search for the missing plane is launched, veteran aeronautics expert Joe Patroni joins the rescue operation as a technical adviser, joined by the jet’s owner, Philip Stevens. Meanwhile, the trapped crew can only contact rescuers by getting a signal buoy to the surface. Captain Gallagher and a professional diver and passenger, Martin Wallace, enter the main cargo preparing to swim to the surface using air masks. The hatch suddenly blows open, killing Wallace. Gallagher barely makes it to the surface and activates the emergency beacon. The signal is detected and a rescue operation is launched. Meanwhile, the plane’s fuselage is steadily leaking.

The Navy dispatches a sub-recovery ship, the USS Cayuga, the destroyer USS Agerholm, and a flotilla of other vessels to the crash site, rescuing Gallagher. Guided by Gallagher, Navy divers rig the plane with balloons and inflate them, slowly raising the aircraft, which could split apart. Just before the plane reaches the surface, a balloon breaks loose and pressure is reduced to stabilize the aircraft. A cargo hold door inside the plane bursts open and seawater swamps the cabin; Chambers, pinned under a sofa, drowns. Emily’s injured friend Dorothy dies from her injuries, Wallace’s widow, Karen and a stewardess drown. With time running out, air pressure is increased, raising the plane to the surface. All survivors are quickly evacuated. Captain Gallagher and Stevens’s assistant, Eve, get trapped inside and escape through the upper deck. All buoyancy is lost and the 747 slips under the waves.

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