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Airport '77 (1977) - Plot Summary Poster

(1977)

Plot

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Summaries

  • Art thieves hijack a 747, hit fog and crash into the ocean, trapping them and the passengers under one hundred feet of water.

  • Mr. Phillip Stevens is flying in a load of V.I.P.s to the grand opening of his art collection when a trio of hijackers knock out the passengers with gas and try to steal the priceless cargo of art treasures. But everything goes wrong for the hijackers when the 747 crashes in the Bermuda triangle. While the passengers remain alive in the shallow water, a daring rescue operation is planned to bring the plane up without breaking it in two.

  • Flight 23 has crashed in the Bermuda Triangle. While taking V.I.P.s and valuable art to Philip Stevens new musuem. But when hijackers take off the plane and knock everyone out with sleeping gas, the plane crashes in the sea. The passengers survive, but a small hole at the front is flooding the plane and two daring rescues must be put into action, because everyone is trapped one hundred feet underwater.


Spoilers

The synopsis below may give away important plot points.

Synopsis

  • A privately owned luxury Boeing 747-100, Stevens' Flight 23 (call sign two-three Sierra) complete with piano bar, office, and bedroom, is used to ferry invited guests from Washington DC to Miami and to an estate owned by wealthy philanthropist Philip Stevens (James Stewart). Valuable artwork of the Stevens' private collection is also on board the jetliner, to be eventually displayed in his new museum. Such a collection motivates a group of thieves led by co-pilot Bob Chambers (Robert Foxworth) to hijack the aircraft in the hopes of landing it on an abandoned airfield on St. George Island so they can sell the artwork to smugglers and then flee to a South American country.

    Once Captain Don Gallagher (Jack Lemmon) leaves the cockpit and is knocked unconscious, the hijacker's plans go into motion. A sleeping gas is released into the cabin and the passengers lose consciousness. Knocking out the flight engineer, Chambers puts the plan in motion, and Stevens' Flight 23 "disappears" into the Bermuda Triangle. Descending to virtual wave-top altitude, Flight 23 heads into a fog bank, reducing visibility to less than a mile. Minutes later, a large offshore drilling platform emerges from the haze, Flight 23 heading straight for it at close to 600 knots.

    Chambers pulls back on the yoke in a banking left turn but the engine number 4 clips the derrick, causing the engine to catch fire. Chambers immediately hits the fire extinguishing button and flames are momentarily extinguished. However, because the aircraft is at such a low altitude, the sudden loss of airspeed threatens to stall the airplane. As the engine reignites, Chambers is forced to use another fire-suppression bottle. But by this time, the aircraft stall alarm goes off and the aircraft's tail hits the water. All the passengers wake up, and most start to scream and panic. Chambers is able to pull up, but soon the plane's right wing hits the water again, and the plane lifts into the air for another moment, then hitting the water again. Because of the impact being so hard, the plane becomes grounded in the ocean. Eventually, the plane begins to slip beneath the waves.

    The ocean bottom is fortunately above the crush-depth of the fuselage. Many of the passengers are injured, some seriously. Two of the would-be thieves are killed in the initial crash. Banker (Monte Markham) is in the hold securing the art for the transfer when a cargo container causes a breach of the outer skin, crushing and drowning him. The second fatality is Wilson (Michael Pataki), another thief who is killed when he is slammed into the flight panel on impact.

    Since the aircraft was off course, search and rescue efforts are focused in the wrong area. Involved in these efforts are Phillip Stevens himself and Joe Patroni (George Kennedy), whom is now the director of field operations of the Stevens Corporation. The only way to signal rescue efforts to the proper region is to get a signal buoy to the surface in a small dinghy. Captain Gallagher and diver Martin Wallace (Christopher Lee) enter the main cargo in the attempt, but an unexpected triggering of the hatch crushes Wallace. Gallagher, out of oxygen provided by the dive gear, makes it to the surface, and activates the beacon after he climbs into the dinghy. Getting a fix on the new signal, an S-3 Viking overflies the crash site, confirming the location of Flight 23.

    The U.S. Navy then dispatches a sub-recovery ship, the USS Cayuga (LST-1186) along with the destroyer USS Agerholm (DD-826) and a flotilla of other vessels. The aircraft is ringed with balloons and once inflated, the aircraft rises from the bottom of the seafloor. Just before the plane breaks surface, one of the balloons breaks loose, prompting the Navy captain to reduce the air pressure of the remaining balloons, thus keeping the plane just beneath the waves. At that moment, one of the doors in the cargo hold bursts open, causing the plane to flood. The cascade of sea water sweeps through the passengers; First Officer Chambers is killed when he is pinned under a sofa. The deluge also sweeps away Wallace's widow (Lee Grant), who drowns just as the Navy captain orders more air pressure into the balloons, finally raising the plane successfully. Once on the surface, the passengers are evacuated. With the survivors on their way to waiting ships, Captain Gallagher and Stevens' assistant, Eve (Brenda Vaccaro) are the last to evacuate from the aircraft as it slips under the waves for the last time.

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