Crash: The Mystery of Flight 1501 (Movie review)

Capt. Halstead announcing that the flight is delayed due to a technical problem

Air disasters can be very painful for the friends and relatives of the victims, particularly for the wife of a pilot who is quickly blamed for the disaster and the casualties. This is the subject of this made-for-TV movie, also known as Aftermath.

Plot summary

At the beginning of the movie, we see Diane (Cheryl Ladd) and Greg Halstead (Doug Sheehan) arriving to the airport in a blue convertible car in the middle of an argument about a certain “project” they are giving up… then deciding to reconcile and try again, just before Greg boards a ConWest Airlines flight, for which he is the Captain. We later see the rest of the passengers board and the different pieces of luggage loaded in the aircraft. There are many suitcases, of course, but also a big yellow box, labeled as containing electronic equipment, a barrel simply labeled “Laundry Chemicals”, and some pets in their cages.

Flight 1501 is a DC-9 scheduled to leave Baltimore/Washington for a stopover at Kansas City, then continuing on to San Francisco. Captain Halstead and his co-pilot (Gregory Feith, see “things to notice”) go through their departure checklist, when suddenly, they notice a problem with the hydraulic system. Even though they have a backup system, the Captain prefers to have the problem fixed before departure and delays the flight.

The passengers are terribly disappointed, particularly a couple, Mr. and Mrs. Switzer (Ray Blunk and Liz Jury), who booked a connecting flight on a different airline out of San Francisco. A senator (John Rayburn) is on flight 1501, and he says he has to reach Kansas City as soon as possible. His assistant says another flight leaves in 30 minutes, so they deplane…

Diane and Greg Halstead (Cheryl Ladd and Doug Sheehan)

Greg takes advantage of that small unexpected pause to call home. But Diane isn’t there. He leaves an answering machine message asking her to be patient with him, and that they will succeed. Flight 1501 takes off and Diane is now at a friend’s home after running some errands. In Kansas City, the senator in question is welcomed by a crowd of demonstrators chanting pro-life slogans. His entourage informs him that they believed he was rebooked on another flight not only because of the delay, but a bomb threat on flight 1501. Yet they never thought of alerting the crew.

Back to flight 1501, flying over Ohio, at night. The Captain receives a SELCAL message about an unconfirmed bomb threat. He diverts the flight to Dayton, but since he cannot confirm that there is a bomb on board, tells the passengers that the unscheduled stop is due to bad weather. The passengers are of course very disappointed. Their flight was delayed one hour, and now, they have to spend the night in Dayton. The weather is worse than expected. There are thunderstorm fronts all over Dayton.

During the descent, Dayton Tower advises that per their radar, flight 1501 is about to fly right into a major storm cell. But, per flight 1501’s radar, the aircraft is clear of the weather. For a moment, neither the tower nor the pilots know what to trust, until the Captain decides to trust his instruments. It turns out the tower was right. The aircraft goes through severe turbulence. The controller advises the fire department to standby for a crash landing. Then, one of the aircraft’s engines flames out and the aircraft banks left, crashes and burns. The Captain’s final words before impact are: “We’ve got no…”

DC-9 flight in the storm

Diane goes back home with her friend and realizes to her horror that there are some ConWest Airlines employees waiting for her. This can only mean one thing: something happened to Greg. A fellow pilot tells her that Greg’s plane crashed in Dayton.

Out of over 100 passengers and crew, only two survive: a passenger, who lost his wife in the crash, and Greg Halstead. The rest of the movie shows us the crash investigation and the speculations from the media. Immediately, the pilot is blamed for not following air traffic control’s instructions, and for taking a harmless drug that happens to not be on an FAA list of approval.

Appreciation

CNW1501 flying right into the storm cell

I think the movie is good. I like the depiction of the media and their misinterpretation of air disasters. Cheryl Ladd and the other actors are convincing, but the special effects and footage used aren’t.

I give Crash: The Mystery of Flight 1501 6.5 out of 10.

Things to notice

The movie contains several continuity mistakes.

  • The footage used for the scene where flight 1501 is on take-off shows a Boeing 727.
  • Just before impact, the altimeter reads 4,000 feet and the aircraft appears to cross a layer of clouds. This is a very unlikely scenario, and it does not concur with the crash simulation, which is shown later in the movie.
  • The aircraft flies through a severe thunderstorm, but upon impact, there is no lightning and no rain.
  • There are many differences between the night scenes before the crash; the sky goes from black to dark blue.
  • Reporter Spense Zolman (Jim Metzler) at the crash site

    The wreckage of Flight 1501 is easily recognizable as a prop plane, possibly a Convair 240, and not a jet plane.

  • The aircraft shown from outside, during the thunderstorm, is footage of a TWA DC-9 (in the old twin-globe color scheme), with bolts of lightning.
  • The footage used at the beginning of the movie (crossing the clouds), and before the crash (idem, but darker) is the same as Flight 90: Disaster on the Potomac.
  • This goof only concerns the French version, which I have seen. The lines were poorly translated and make the movie sound technically inaccurate. An altimeter setting becomes “290.9” (you will notice the decimal is misplaced) and a heading is given as “1020” (four numbers). Also, the line “Flaps 15, landing gear down” is simply translated as “We’re starting our descent”.
  • One viewer (Ken M.) reports that Greg Feith, playing the role of flight 1501’s First Officer, was at the time a senior investigator for the NTSB. Most surprisingly, this movie (made in 1990) foreshadows his role as a key investigator for the ValuJet flight 592 crash (in 1996), which occurred under very similar circumstances as the crash in the movie.

The plane

It is a DC-9 flown by ConWest Airlines, flight 1501, on the Baltimore – Kansas City – San Francisco route (BWI-MCI-SFO).

Movie links

Specifications

U.S.A. 1990, Produced by Citadel Entertainment. Directed by Philip Saville. Starring Cheryl Ladd, Jeffrey DeMunn, Frederick Coffin, Peter Jurasik, Jim Metzler, Jeff McCarthy, Moira Walley, Doug Sheehan. Rated PG. Also known as Catastrophe aérienne (French), Feuer an Bord von Flug 1501 (German).

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