In April 1988 Aloha Airlines Flight 243 suffered an absolutely huge metal fatigue rip in its fuselage mid-flight, ripping a section of the plane away. In easily one of the most visually baffling plane moments I’ve seen in history, this true story and its miracle survival for all but one person on board, is tastefully re-enacted in Miracle Landing. Apologies for the screen captures, I was using a very battered VHS tape for capture and am currently on the look out for a much cleaner copy.
The disasters faced
Metal fatigue, flying debris, falling out the aircraft, landing safely, bad electronics, idiotic FBI agents, bad radio signals and a man who thinks he is so amazing until he actually has to help.
Leaving Hilo for Honnolulu, Aloha Airlines Flight 243 is gearing up for its usual flight. Onboard are several crew members. Captain Bob and First Officer Mimi are in the cockpit looking forward to Mimi becoming a Captain soon. Both are experienced, friendly and professional. The three flight attendants are Michelle, CB and Jane. CB is the matriarch of them to stop Jane and Michelle stuffing first class cookies but they’re all friends really.
Onboard the flight we have a variety of passengers include holidaying mother and son Gail and David, flight attendant co-worker Cindy and new husband Jeff on their way back their honeymoon and older couple Dorothy and George. More comedically we have large Hawaiian musician Tui who can’t fit in his seat, sat next to Doug who is desperate to get Michelle to go for a drink with him. She is very much not interested. First aider Roy is also on board. We don’t spend too much time with these characters but each of them either helps out in doing something heroic or ends up requiring help during the disaster.
Everything seems normal until David spots a crack in the ceiling and notifies CB about it. Just then the entire section of the roof rips open and blows off, taking CB with it. Carnage and confusion explode as the plane decompresses. Those in the section (Dorothy and George) where the plane fuselage is gone are now hanging on for dear life, belted into their seats. Roy is also stuck on the edge of problem too and can see the hydraulics leaking out the plane. Flight attendant Jane has suffered head injuries and is being pinned to the floor by passengers keeping her there. All the oxygen is being blown out the plane so everyone else behind the initial incident zone are struggling for oxygen masks but they don’t work due to the electrics being cut.
The film then moves between two main issues. Bob and Mimi are trying to wrestle control of the craft and set up for their Miracle Landing. A lot of this will be made tricky due to radio confusion between themselves and Maui airport because of the plane damage. Meanwhile Michelle is literally having to throw herself around the passengers to keep them calm, put on life jackets and attend to emergency medical issues – including one man with a piece of metal stuck in his head. As we know from the title and real story, they do land and everyone apart from the terribly misfortunate CB did survive but it is a story worth telling.
Why is it worth watching?
Miracle Landing is an oddity in a way. During its flight and disaster sequences, it is very realistic and grounded. There is a real late 80’s/early 90’s soap opera vibe to some of the background stories but they largely just introduce the character and that’s it. Whilst this is all grounded in reality, we are then given three slightly odd flashbacks to earlier points in Bob, Mimi and Michelle’s lives that appear to have set them up for their moments of courage. Whilst it is a nice thought, these sections do feel a little soapy. I think this comes from the fact that Miracle Landing is a TV movie, the real incident was about 12 minutes long and the film is 85 minutes long. Whilst there’s about 10 minutes post landing and 20 pre-disaster, this means you get to have everything spaced out into separate incidents instead of the compact drama of everything.
My only complaint of Miracle Landing is that I would have liked a little more interaction from some of the passengers that Michelle had to deal with. We get most of this from the frankly awful Doug. He acts like an utter tool throughout the entire film and when he says he may be able to fly the plane, he chickens out and doesn’t help at all. In the end his only deed of help is to get the emergency slide working but that’s so he can be first off the plane. If his character was real, I wonder if him backing out actually saved Michelle in the long run?
The plane break up is done really well for a TV movie from 1990. There is a lot of debris that makes up a lot of the passive effects as things fly around all the time. Whilst little blood or injury is shown, it’s done well. One thing that is slightly unusual is that being in Hawaii, the clear blue skies form a very harsh backdrop for the blown out plane section. It makes things look a little ‘on stage’ but its likely the sky was that blue anyway!
Whilst I’ve covered our main trio, its nice to have a closing narration that gives you life updates on the crew some two years after the accident. Some of the other characters just don’t get any development at all and the movie weirdly pulls out some movie tropes instead at the end for them.. The elderly couple barely speak, they are in shock (as would I to be honest) for the entire movie. Child David ends up thinking this is an amazing experience and seems to want to do it again. James Cromwell has a few scenes pre and post disaster as some airport official (called B.J. Cocker – really?!) whose character is there solely to give the ‘you ain’t got what it takes’ and then ‘good job kid’ speeches found in all these movies. It feels slightly at odds with the movies tone but its so brief, you don’t notice much. I also wanted more Tui – what a guy.
Three memorable moments
- The incident itself for its drama and bizarre visual nature of it all.
- Seeing Michelle hanging onto passenger seats to stand up to see if the plane is still being flown… whilst there’s no roof on the plane!
- The landing itself for its intense drama (and interesting wide shots).
The obligatory weird moment
During Mimi’s flashback, she is a teenager at the cockpit of a tiny personal plane learning how to land it. It seems like her dad is busy cheering her on from the ground as she attempts to land it and is bouncing down the runway. What kind of child cruelty is this?! It sounds like the premise for a horror movie. Land or Die: Daddy Edition.
The drinking game
I have no idea how Michelle done it in real life but each time she has to tell someone else to keep calm, I’d need a drink in real life to keep my own nerves steady!
Whilst it does pad its runtime a little in the wrong areas, Miracle Landing is a respectful and largely factually accurate account of what happened on board Flight 243. I’ve found that on repeat watching I’ve enjoyed the film more each time as I’ve come to appreciate the sheer madness of what took place. Whilst you may not be quite on steel hooks wondering about their survival, as the story and name give the game away, its still a fine movie.
Rating: 3 / 5 Good
If you enjoyed Miracle Landing, then you may also like…
- Sully: Miracle on the Hudson – more courtroom based but still compelling movie.
- Rough Air: Danger on Flight 534 – one of the campiest silliest plane disaster movies I’ve seen.
- Airport 1975 – What happens when your flight attendant has to land the plane?!
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