“Crash: The Crash of Flight 401” and Remembering Eastern Air Lines Flight 401

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 Crash of Flight 401 (Berry Shear, 1978). Like my previous post about Flight 90: Disaster on the Potomac, this movie is based on an actual crash. The following is a summary for the movie on IMDb about the movie:

On December 29, 1972, Eastern Air Lines Flight 401 crashes into the Florida Everglades, resulting in 101 fatalities.


A summary of what happened can be found on Wikipedia. The key points are the plane was on a scheduled flight from New York JFK to Miami. Shortly before midnight on December 29, 1972, the Lockheed L-1011-1 TriStar crashed into the Florida Everglades, causing 101 fatalities. The pilots and the flight engineer, two of 10 flight attendants, and 96 of 163 passengers died; 75 passengers and crew survived. The crash occurred while the entire cockpit crew was preoccupied with a burnt-out landing gear indicator light. They failed to notice that the autopilot had inadvertently been disconnected, and as a result, the aircraft gradually lost altitude and crashed. This was the first fatal crash of a wide-body aircraft. It was also the first hull loss and first fatal crash of a Lockheed L-1011 TriStar.

As with my posts about Crash: The Mystery of Flight 1501 and Flight 90: Disaster on the Potomac, the finger of blame appears to be solely on the cockpit crew. Yet, alternative safety systems – whether inside the plane or through better observations by air traffic control, could have helped prevent this accident. As I have written before, there is almost always (if not always) never a single cause to any accident. That a safety check at that time does not exist is not an excuse for not having such a safety system. Time needs to be spent predicting and thinking about what could go wrong and introducing systems to prevent such accidents from happening. Otherwise those involved are just as culpable as the ones flying the plane (in the case of aviation accidents).

As with Flight 90: Disaster on the Potomac, Crash: The Crash of Flight 401 was made prior to the wealth of TV documentary series that are now made about plane crashes and so was set out in a way which we don’t often see now in movies relating to plane crashes. Although done as a dramatization, it has a slight documentary feel to it in that it is clearly trying to show what caused to the accident itself (keep in mind the caveats above the cause of accidents). Also, like Flight 90: Disaster on the Potomac, Crash: The Crash of Flight 401 was a TV movie so had certain budget restrictions and, as the oldest English-language movie in my study, shows its age in the way that it looks and feels.

In relation to my research about public transportation accident memorials, as I discuss in the article and mentioned in the post on Flight 90: Disaster on the Potomac, I found that there were many cases in the USA (unlike in Europe and even more so in Japan) where there appears to be no memorial at all (see also my discussion about those accidents where there are memorials – such as AA Flight 587 as TWA Flight 800). I am not sure if there is a permanent memorial to Eastern Air Lines flight 401 yet or not – I have found an internet page (dated from 2007) discussing attempts to fund and establish a permanent memorial. That there is still a GoFundMe page relating to the memorial suggests that it still has not been completed.

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 Crash of Flight 401 has 12 out of the 17. It was one of the English-language movies that does show dead bodies. However, this movie shows no ghosts. This statement may strike you as odd if you are not aware of the stories that surround the aftermath of Flight 401. Indeed, there is another movie related to Flight 401, The Ghost of Flight 401 (Steven Hilliard Stern, 1978), that deals with these stories. I didn’t include that movie (or indeed Passengers (Rodrigo Garcia, 2008) once I realised what was going on) since they didn’t fit within the types of movies that I was studying.

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