“Flight” Put Me in the Cockpit of 6780

My parents' home just after the plane crashI had a visceral reaction to the beginning of the superb film, Flight, while the pilot (Denzel Washington), struggled to keep his plane in the air after a mechanical failure. I’m sure many moviegoers felt the tension and related to the panic of the passengers, but I believe something else was also at work here for me personally.

Spoiler alert for the rest of this post, in case you haven’t yet seen this terrific movie.

I thought immediately of all the people who would be devastated by the crash, by the deaths of however many people might die in the plane or on the ground. About the long aftermath of any tragedy in which children, parents, wives and husbands are killed. When they are missing from their families forever. When those left behind try to make sense of the senseless, just as my mother and father did when a plane crashed into their home and killed their eldest daughter.

Watching that plane go down in Flight, I couldn’t help but think of the plane crash that killed my sister Donna when it nose-dived into the house next door and ripped the roof off of the apartment where my family lived. Surely, Captain Reid, the real-life pilot of that flight, 6780 from Buffalo to Newark in 1952, went through similar anguish depicted in the film, along with his passengers. He was unable to land, or find a clearing that would spare lives on the ground. He lost his life. All the souls on board were killed, along with my sister and others on the ground. But, he was able to steer clear of a school, saving the 300 students still inside that afternoon. We’ll never know if that was a conscious decision, but I like to think it was.

As Denzel Washington soared over the heads of the gathering in the field in the movie, I thought of the split second decisions that save lives, or forfeit them. The teacher that kept his class after school so that he didn’t arrive home to his apartment above my parents until after the plane had decimated the building. My mother’s decision to send home the girls meeting at her apartment a half hour earlier than usual. And the fateful choice my sister made to come home from school an hour earlier than planned.

Flight was, of course, about much more than a plane crash. It was about a life that was careening out of control, speeding toward inevitable implosion that could only be stopped by facing the truth.

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