Dec 10, 2012
Flight, directed by Robert Zemekis, is about a veteran airline pilot who crash lands his plane after a critical part fails in mid-air. Out of 102 passengers and crew members on board, 96 survived due to the actions of pilot Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington). Whitaker is a hero.
But we also know that Whip, an alcoholic, had been drinking and using cocaine during the flight.
The film depicts addictive behavior, all the lies and the denial, not only by Whip, but by all those around him.
After the crash, a lawyer for the company tells Whip that it is standard procedure after a crash to test the pilot’s blood, urine, and hair for drugs. Whip, who has just finished dumping out all his booze, confidently says, “No problem,” and asks when are they going to take the samples. Hugh, the lawyer, explains that they already took the samples at the crash site and that it indicated a very elevated blood alcohol level. So Whip is facing manslaughter charges and jail time. The lawyer defends Whip in order to defend the airline. He intends to argue that the crash was an act of God and therefore the airline and the pilot bear no responsibility.
It was no “act of God” that doomed this flight. The plane was destined to crash. Nor could the most sober, awake pilot have prevented the crash. This flight was doomed by the airline itself. A screw in the tail-section was stripped but never replaced, causing the plane to lock in a dive.
As part of the NTSB investigation, experienced pilots try landing in a simulator with the same malfunction – all fail and in the simulation, everyone dies. Whip’s landing was successful because he compensated for the downward locked position of the tail flap by flying the plane upside down. This allowed the plane to level off for a more controlled crash, after the pilot put the plane right side up. He also dumped the fuel before crashing. His actions saved 96 lives. The NTSB knows this plane was doomed. Still they want to blame the pilot – which is the way the NTSB works to protect the company.
What is really upside down in this film is that Whip gets jail time and the company gets ... the movie never says. Of course, it’s not OK to fly drunk. Whip Whitaker may have been a broken man, but he was definitely, without question, flying a broken plane.