“Crash: The Mystery of Flight 1501” – Don’t Rush to Blame the Pilot after a Plane Crash

In the next of my posts about movies which I studied for my article “Disaster Narratives by Design: Is Japan Different?“, I am writing about Crash: The Mystery of Flight 1501 (Philip Saville, 1990) – also known as Aftermath, but not to be confused with the 2016 movie (directed by Elliott Lester) of the same name. The following is a summary for the movie on IMDb about the movie:

When a passenger plane crashes after a bomb scare, there are many unanswered questions, which can only be attributed to “pilot error”. The pilot’s wife, Diane Halstead, is convinced her husband could never have caused the disaster, but nobody will listen to her.


Although TV movies do not always clearly suffer from their smaller budgets, etc (Blackout Effect and One-no-Kanata-ni and Shizumanu Taiyo are good examples of a TV movies/series which do a good job), there are many where you cannot help but think that a bit more money could have helped. Crash: The Mystery of Flight 1501 is one such movie. The story itself is good and there is there is some good filming, but it doesn’t quite hit the mark – though I think its (at the time of writing) average of 5.3 is a bit harsh.

In terms of the revised list of conventions that I developed as part of my article “Disaster Narratives by Design: Is Japan Different?“, Crash: The Mystery of Flight 1501 has 13 out of the 17. Due to the way in which the disaster itself happens, there was no need/opportunity to show panic, nor was there any isolation. Although the crash site was done very well, the movie pulled back (as is usually the case with English-language disaster movies) from showing any dead bodies.

When watching the movie I concluded that it didn’t have any contemporary significance – due to both the unique details of this particular crash and that I was watching at a time when there had been few passenger plane crashes. However, as I noted in my post about Blackout Effect, deciding what has ‘contemporary significance’ is difficult and it could be argued that most/all plane disaster movies in particular.

As I write this post it is only a few days after the Sriwijaya Air Flight 182 plane crash and although it is too soon to know what caused this crash, there are media stories that are already focussing on the pilot as in Crash: The Mystery of Flight 1501 and as happens after many plane crashes. There is a degree to which this is natural due to the role of the pilot, but it also panders to an overly-simplistic understanding of any accident – there is almost never a single smoking gun – and the pilot is all-too-often an easy target as they are not around to answer back (so allowing companies to avoid any suggestions that they were liable). Accidents are almost always the combination of a variety of events, system designs, people and other aspects that come together. Often it only needs one of these not to happen or be in place (or for a better safety system to be in place) for the accident not to happen. If Crash: The Mystery of Flight 1501 does one thing well, it is to highlight some of that issue and its consequences.

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