Denzel Washington plays a seasoned airline pilot (Captain Whip Whitaker) flying for a low budget southeast regional carrier named SouthJet (think ValuJet).
The movie begins with Captain Whitaker
piloting a routine flight between Orlando and Atlanta.
With the co-pilot now completely freaked out, Whitaker
calmly assumes control of the situation by executing a series of instinctual and unconventional maneuvers including applying additional thrust, increasing drag and rolling the aircraft completely upside down to correct the dive and achieve level flight.
During this time, both engines blow out and cannot be extinguished or re-started.
The scene in the cabin is horrifying with people falling out of their seats, vomiting and rolling around uncontrollably.
Without power and unable to locate an alternative airport, Whitaker
indentifies an open field to crash land the jet.
rolls the aircraft right-side up and begins an aggressive accent towards the field.
Seconds before impact, Whitaker
realizes they are approaching the property of a Baptist church and severs the church steeple with the right wing before slamming into the ground.
As the National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) investigation gets underway, Whip Whitaker is declared a hero for a masterful crash landing and is praised by the media, friends and colleagues.
discovers that other veteran pilots attempted to duplicate his
maneuvers in a flight simulator.
All failed to arrest the dive and ended up crashing nose first.
Seems like a heroic Captain Sully Sullenberger landing on the Hudson River story, right?
Thereâ€™s just one complication; Whip Whitaker
is an alcoholic and drug addict.
Before flights, Whitaker
consumes a variety of alcoholic beverages then snorts lines of cocaine to restore his
senses and concentration prior to entering the cockpit.
summons the â€œservicesâ€ of his
buddy Harling Mays (brilliantly played by John Goodman) to dispense and administer his
During the NTSB investigation, this addiction has now caught up with Whitaker
drug test after the crash confirming he
was indeed intoxicated prior to the Orlando to Atlanta journey.
Towards the end of the movie, Whitaker
is called to testify before a formal NTSB investigation board in Atlanta.
During the hearing, Whitakerâ€™s heroic aircraft maneuvers are acknowledged by the lead NTSB investigator.
board concludes by rolling the MD-80 upside down and maintaing an inverted flight attitude, Whitaker
arrested the dive and prevented the aircraft from slamming into the ground nose first. Â The NTSB
also uncovered the cause of the mechanical failure.
evades the question and instead stares at the enlarged photo of Marquez before him.
In this moment of personal reflection, Whitaker
must finally become accountable for his
then admits to the NTSB lead that he
had also been drinking before the flight and is in fact an alcoholic.
This shocking confession strips Whitaker of his
career and sends him to federal prison.
The movie concludes with Whitaker
fellow inmates on the lessons heâ€™s learned and admitting that the consequences suffered from his
irresponsible actions were fair and liberating.
In short, Whitakerâ€™s fateful 52 minute flight turns out to be a flight to personal redemption.
The last scene of the move shows Whitaker
The son explains that he
is now applying for colleges and needs Whitakerâ€™s help in writing a letter addressing the topic: â€œA fascinating person you have never metâ€.
son then asks him â€œSo, who are you?â€