Final Descent (Movie review)

Capt. Glen “Lucky” Singer (Robert Urich) and F/O Connie Phipps (Annette O’Toole)

If you are a fan of air disaster movies like me, you probably noticed some are good, some are goofy. Here is an in-depth analysis of a great air disaster movie where a small prop plane and a heavy airliner collide in mid-air. This made-for-TV movie was first broadcast as a World Premiere Movie on CBS in October 1997. It is inspired by the novel The Glass Cockpit by Robert P. Davis.

Plot summary

It’s a sunny day in Seattle. Captain Glen “Lucky” Singer (the late Robert Urich) and his girlfriend Connie Phipps (Annette O’Toole) prepare for a routine flight on Quest Airlines to Dallas on a brand-new aircraft: the Gallant 270, almost entirely computerized. On board is also a check pilot, Captain George Bouchard (John DeLancie).

About 220 passengers are on board flight 19. As usual, the passengers are a little “unique”: in First Class, a pregnant woman with her husband, a no-nonsense businessman, also in First Class, and on coach, a woman travelling with a music band, a trio of construction workers, a divorced woman travelling alone, sitting next to an arrogant veteran.

Another plane also prepares for departure: a general aviation aircraft flown by a businessman with no consideration for risk. Both planes are scheduled to depart at the same time amid confusion, as the pilot of the small prop plane takes off from the wrong runway. Seconds later, Quest 19 is cleared for takeoff from a parallel runway.

ATC Screen showing QST19 and N9748C about to collide

The moment Quest 19 is airborne, a traffic conflict alarm sounds in the control tower. The controller quickly tries to herd the two planes away from each other. Quest 19 makes a rapid right turn. However, the prop plane, in addition to taking off from the wrong runway, starts his turn too late.

Soon enough, he sees the Gallant 270 approaching straight at him. He lets out a scream and is powerless. The wing of his prop plane collides with the airliner’s stabilizer. The latter swiftly banks due to the collision, and carry-ons stowed in the overhead storage compartments suddenly fall. The cabin shakes, the passengers scream and… the two flight attendants sitting at the back are quickly covered with pasta primavera that was to be served to the passengers later, as the galley compartments pop open.

The prop plane explodes on impact, but Quest 19 remains in the air – although badly damaged. The elevators are jammed in a climb position. A solution must be found to bring the nose down before the plane climbs to an altitude where the turbines will explode and the plane will vaporize.

I won’t tell you the rest of the movie. It is so interesting! The solutions to bring the nose down are creative and brilliant.

Appreciation

Passengers Duke (Jim Byrnes) and Patty (Gwynyth Walsh)

The movie depicts with great detail all of the steps of a typical flight and covers the reactions of most passengers. There is no obvious overacting. The visual effects are the best I have ever seen in this kind of movie, even though some of them were obviously computer-assisted. I liked the fact that we see a woman in the cockpit. Too bad the mid-air collision plot is a little far-fetched. This is the only major flaw I detected in the movie.

I give this movie 9 out of 10.
It is excellent for a made-for-TV air disaster movie. A must-see!

Things to notice

Final Descent is overall a technically accurate movie. However the following inaccuracies in continuity have been found.

  • There are no runways 9L-27R or 9R-27L at Seattle (instead, it’s 16L-34R or 16R-34L). That’s in Vancouver, where the movie was filmed.
  • When the helicopter shoots at the tail of the plane, a close-up shows the holes passing through the wrong side.
  • When the decompression occurs, the point of decompression is forward, but the objects are blown backwards.
  • The emergency vehicles read “Dulles Municipal Airport”, even though the airport is Seattle.

You may be interested to know that…

Tail of the fictional Gallant 270 aircraft showing the Quest Airlines logo

  • The livery of Quest Airlines is identical to the Canadian Airlines colors, except for the arrow logotype replaced by a stylish “Q”. As a matter of fact, footage of Canadian Airlines aircraft (including a three-engine DC-10) was used for many scenes.
  • The logotype of the airline, “Q”, could be a subtle reference to John DeLancie’s role of “Q” in the Star Trek series.
  • Gallant Aviation, the fictional builder of the Gallant 270 (as well as the Gallant 260 and Gallant 280), was probably named after producer Michael O. Gallant.
  • The cockpit of the Gallant 270 is almost a replica of the Boeing 777’s.
  • The passenger cabin and the overall exterior design are unique, but because of the distinct shape of the nose, it appears to be inspired by the Airbus A321 aircraft and not by the Boeing 757.
  • The registration N9748C was used in many movies and TV series up to now, such as Dallas, the made-for-TV movie Free Fall and the TV series Peter Benchley’s Amazon. It is a “reserved fictitious tail number” by the Public Affairs office of the FAA.

The planes

Quest 19 is a passenger Gallant 270 (fictional plane model), flying on a SEA-DFW route (Seattle Sea-Tac – Dallas Fort Worth). N9748C is a private prop plane (probably a Twin Cessna, although I’m not sure).

Movie links

Specifications

U.S.A. 1997. Produced by Mandalay Television and Columbia TriStar. Directed by Mike Robe. Starring Robert Urich, Annette O’Toole, John DeLancie, Gwynyth Walsh, Jim Byrnes, Kevin McNulty, Ken Pogue. Rated PG. Also known as Choc en plein ciel (French), Aircrash – Katastrophe beim Take Off (German).

One more thing…

This movie is based on the book The Glass Cockpit. Please read the sub-article comparing the movie and the book.

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One comment on “Final Descent (Movie review)
  1. d22 says:

    final descent is an awesome movie why do people thing its dreadfull i only just found out robert urich is dead and im absolutely devasted. r.i.p lucky

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