The disaster that occurred on April 28, 1988 is quite memorable. An Aloha Airlines Boeing 737 lost an 18 ft. section of its fuselage at 24,000 feet, due to metal fatigue. Miraculously, only one occupant, a flight attendant, perished during the sudden decompression. With an aircraft getting more and more difficult to control, one engine out of two working, and an aircraft that could fall apart any minute, the cockpit crew does the impossible: a Miracle Landing.
First Officer Madeline “Mimi” Tompkins (Connie Sellecca) is jogging in a beach near Honolulu, and her spouse, Randall, comes immediately with great news. Mimi will start her training program in order to become a Captain! She is the first female pilot in Paradise Airlines, hired in 1979. In the meantime, Flight attendant Michelle Honda (Ana-Alicia) is painting a portrait of her daughter, in the traditional Hawaiian costume. The painting is fine, but that’s not what her daughter thinks! Also, we get to meet Captain Robert Schornstheimer (Wayne Rogers), sailing with his wife.
Next day, Paradise Airlines flight 243 leaves Honolulu bound for Hilo with no problems, piloted by Captain Schornstheimer and First Officer Tompkins. After a smooth landing, the First Officer offers to the entire crew… cheesecake, which she baked before flying out of Honolulu. The crew is delighted, of course. This isn’t the kind of thing they get from the other pilots! This is where we get to meet C.B. Lansing (Nancy Kwan) and Jane Sato-Tomita (Patty Toy), the two other flight attendants aboard, besides Michelle Honda. C.B. is obviously the chief flight attendant, by her authority as she surprises previously her two other colleagues trying to munch into the cookies for the passengers! Also, she is the only one wearing a flower in her hair, Polynesian style.
Right after that, it’s boarding time and departure checklist for the flight crew. Among the passengers there is a luau dancer, an elderly couple, a mother and her son, and a couple coming back from their honeymoon at Waipi’o Valley, who happen to be friends of Michelle Honda. As the stairs are stowed and the baggage and cabin doors are closed, the music already tells us that this will be the last trip this 737 will ever do. The aircraft rolls smoothly to runway 8 at Hilo, the same runway the aircraft used previously for landing.
The aircraft takes-off smoothly and climbs to 24,000 feet, although with some “light chops”, according to Mimi. In the cabin, a young boy (Will Estes, credited as Will Nipper) suddenly notices a small crack on the roof, next to the overhead compartments. He timidly calls a Flight attendant, C.B…. “Excuse me, could you…” … C.B.’s last words are: “Is everything all right?” … The boy, pointing to the crack, says: “I don’t think so. Up there…”
The crack suddenly starts expanding. Due to the sudden change of pressure, condensation is briefly seen near the crack. In the flight deck, the crew is having trouble maintaining control of the aircraft. In a split second, the horror: the cabin suffers a sudden decompression. Everything, from carry-ons to inflight magazines, to cups and glasses, is immediately sucked out by the crack, still expanding, until a large portion of the roof is immediately ripped off. The flight crew starts a descent and sets the transponder to 7700. Mimi tries a distress call to Honolulu Center: “Mayday, Mayday! Paradise 2-4-3… Descending out of 2-4-0… Rapid depressurization… Declaring an emergency!”… But the controller doesn’t hear her.
Wanna know what comes next? Rent this excellent movie or wait until it is broadcast either at CBS or Lifetime Network. It is really worth it!
This is definitely one of the best air disaster movies made for TV. The special effects are excellent, the soundtrack music is very good, and the movie plays its role perfectly: showing us a true story without filling it too much with unnecessary action. They sure had the budget! They even went as far as painting a 737 in the colors of fictitious Paradise Airlines and doing everything from inflight magazines to ticket folders, to the wrapping for the cookies… I think there isn’t anything to add.
This masterpiece deserves 9.5 out of 10.
It isn’t perfect, but this is as close as you can get.
Things to notice
Miracle Landing is one of the most technically accurate air disaster movies ever. However these small goofs are the result of filming conditions.
- The airport portrayed as Hilo (ITO) is actually Kahului (OGG), hence the scene where the 737 lands on “runway 2”, when in fact it was cleared to land on runway 8. Also, at the time of filming, ITO did have jetways, but the passengers boarding the 737 to Honolulu are using airstairs. It appears that this scene was filmed in OGG as well, which was still under construction at the time of filming, and did not have jetways yet. (Thanks to Bryan S. from Hilo for the details).
- A very small mistake: the shadow inside the flight deck as the plane positions and holds doesn’t change, even though the plane turns. But you can’t ask too much to a made-for-TV movie!
- This goof was discovered in the Internet Movie Database in early 2001: “Gail Kornberg’s gold hoop earrings disappear and reappear throughout the movie.”
Here are some trivia that compares the real event with the dramatization.
- Nearly all the conversations during the emergency are somewhat verbatim, including the portion where the controller in Maui Tower is confused about the callsign of the flight with the emergency.
- An air traffic controller was flying on the jump seat on flight 243, which is not shown in the movie.
- The aircraft seen in the movie, assuming the registration wasn’t modified for filming, is N70723, which was at the time owned by… Aloha Airlines. It was re-registered C-GCWJ and was last flying with WestJet Airlines, from Canada. The real registration of the Aloha Airlines 737 involved in the crash is N73711.
- The name of the real airline, Aloha Airlines, is never mentioned in the movie. At the end, the picture of each main character (the crew) is shown, with a narration of their life after the incident. For example the narrator says Mimi Tompkins successfully finished her training as a captain and continues to fly for “the airline portrayed in this movie”.
You may be interested to know that…
- During the decompression, a passenger is reading a magazine and it is quickly sucked out, along with his tray table. The magazine was open on an ad for America West Airlines starting its 747 service to… Hawaii. This is also where you notice the Paradise inflight magazine in the seatback pocket.
- The two take-off scenes are in fact the same action filmed under two different angles. You can see an American DC-10 taxiing into position and holding, while a Hawaiian DC-9 is holding short.
- The filming of Miracle Landing was hazardous for Ana-Alicia’s health. She ended up with a broken rib and lung infection (due to the smoke). She says the doctor thought she was an abused wife. (source: Falcon Crest – A Tribute)
- In the movie, C.B. Lansing is called “C.B.” by her friends and even her name tag says “C.B.”. It is a diminutive for her real name, Clarabelle. (source: Popular Mechanics, Aug. 1988)
It is a Boeing 737-200, registration N70723, flown by Paradise Airlines, flight 243 from Hilo (ITO) to Honolulu (HNL).
- IMDb – Miracle Landing
Quotes, trivia, goofs and more from the world’s largest movie database.
- Wikipedia – Aloha Airlines flight 243
Detailed recount of what happened on April 28, 1998.
U.S.A. 1990. Produced by CBS Entertainment Productions. Directed by Dick Lowry. Starring Connie Sellecca, Wayne Rogers, Ana-Alicia, Nancy Kwan, James Cromwell, Jay Thomas. Rated PG. Also known as Panique en plein ciel (French), Katastrophenflug 243 (German).
UPDATE (October 10, 2015): Garner Simmons, writer of Miracle Landing, comments this movie review (see below).