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Columbia Airlines' Flight 409 is a red-eye Boeing 747-100 en route from Washington Dulles International Airport to Los Angeles International Airport. Scott Freeman is a New Mexican business man with an urgent sales meeting in Boise. Failure to make this meeting threatens half his sales commissions for the coming year. He is en route in his private Beechcraft Baron.

However, an occluded front has the entire West Coast socked in, with Los Angeles reporting zero visibility. That not only affects the Columbia flight but also precludes Freeman making his meeting in Boise, Idaho. Both flights are diverted to Salt Lake City International Airport.

Both the Baron and the Boeing 747 enter Salt Lake's entry pattern. Air traffic control assigns the jumbo to enter the pattern first, followed by the Beechcraft. As Columbia 409 is making its final approach, First Officer Urias feels a vibration on one of the adjacent panels and rises to check it out. Freeman, now rather anxious about his missed sales meeting makes a call to the Salt Lake Tower asking about the delay. The tower confirms that he is second to land after the big jet. Here, Freeman suffers a massive heart attack. As he grabs his chest the Baron falls out of the pattern and descends into the approach of Columbia 409.

"Columbia four-oh-niner heavy, the Baron is at twelve-thirty." Those are the last words before Captain Stacey looks up and sees the Baron just feet from the windshield. The Beechcraft impacts the flight deck just above the co-pilot seat. First Officer Urias, still standing, is instantly blown from the cockpit. Flight Engineer Julio receives massive cranial trauma. Captain Stacey receives debris in the face and is blinded.

The decompression is extreme and knocks one of the stewards from the upper lounge down to the cabin below. Nancy Pryor, the head flight attendant rushes up to the flight deck to find Urias gone, Julio dead, and Stacey badly maimed. Fortunately the captain is able to engage the autopilot and the altitude hold switch to keep the aircraft in the air before losing consciousness.

In a call from the Salt Lake control tower as to what happened to the flight, Nancy Pryor, in a panicky voice, informs the tower that the crew is dead or badly injured and that there is no one to fly the plane. The Salt Lake tower tells Pryor to stay on the same frequency. Pryor gives the assessment of the damage as a large hole on the starboard side of the flight deck that wiped out most of the instrument gauges over the engineer station.

Columbia vice president of operations Joe Patroni, recently a head mechanic for Trans World Airlines, is apprised of 409's situation. He seeks the advice of Captain Al Murdoch, Columbia's chief instructor on 747's for the previous four years, who also happens to be Nancy Pryor's lover. Patroni and Murdoch take Columbia's executive jet to Salt Lake. En route, they also communicate with Pryor who is still in the cockpit. While the autopilot is keeping the aircraft in level flight, it is inoperable for turns. Something has to be done, as the jet is heading into the Wasatch Mountains. After successfully guiding Pryor by radio on how to perform the turn, radio communications are interrupted and the Salt Lake tower is unable to restore contact.

Unable to turn, leaking fuel, and dodging the peaks of the Wasatch Mountains, an air to air rescue attempt is undertaken from a jet-powered HH-53 Super Jolly Green Giant helicopter flown by the USAF Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Service. While the pilot is preparing to be released on a tether, it becomes apparent that 409 is heading straight into the side of a mountain. With radio communications still out Pryor flies unaided. Captain Stacey is able to give a cryptic clue regarding the decrease in airspeed during a climb in altitude. Pryor realizes that she must accelerate to be able to climb over the mountain and successfully does so. After 409 has leveled off, the pilot is released towards the stricken airliner. Just as Pryor is helping him in, the release cord from his harness becomes caught in the jagged metal surrounding the hole in the cockpit. As he climbs in, his harness is released from the tether and he falls to his death.

The only other person on the helicopter who can land a 747 is Captain Murdock, who is tethered to the rear of the helicopter and lowered to the jet and successfully enters it through the hole in the cockpit. He then lands the plane safely at Salt Lake City Airport.

Film Info

(2013)
4 min 33 sec Duration
16,580 views
  • Posted: July 07, 2010
  • Director: Jack Smight
  • Writer: Don Ingalls
  • Studio: Universal Pictures
  • Release: October 18, 1974
  • Cast: Charlton Heston, Karen Black, George Kennedy

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