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This TV-movie about the January 13, 1982 crash of Air Florida Flight #90
into the Potomac river is for the most part a well-made docudrama
surrounding many of the people involved in the story. Legal hurdles
prevented some stories from being depicted, in particular that of Lenny
Skutnik who dove into the river to rescue Priscilla Tirado from drowning.
Skutnik felt that any movie about the event was exploitative and thus
refused to let his story be dramatized. His scene is confined to a
look-alike actor (billed only as "Man On Shore" in the original credits)
jumping in at the appropriate moment. However, compensation is offered by
focusing on the more neglected story of mental hospital worker Roger Olian
(Richard Masur) who first swam out to give the trapped passengers
enocouragement before the helicopters arrived. His story is as remarkable
as Skutnik's ultimately and the TV movie allowed those of us who weren't
familiar with his efforts to see how there was more than one hero that day
who jumped into the Potomac to provide help.
The docudrama approach with no special effects of the plane crash managed to work well because there is a desire to keep things as authentic as possible, which includes a large use of actual news footage of the rescue operations, which is blended in seamlessly with the scenes of actors in the tank. Gil Melle's score is a bit awkward and the most dated aspect of the production, but still has some hauntingly beautiful sections when he gets away from the synths.
A few postscripts to the story of the survivors. Nikki Felch's marriage to David Frank did not last and she sadly died of pancreatic cancer in 2002, just two weeks after Burt Hamilton also passed away. Joe Stiley was forced into early retirement by his injuries and lives in Washington state. Priscilla Tirado has not granted an interview in more than ten years and remains traumatized by the events that saw her lose her husband and baby. By far, the happiest story has been that of Flight Attendant Kelly Duncan (who is given the least attention of any of the survivors in the movie, with greater focus coming on the other two flight attendants who were killed) who today teaches at a Christian pre-school and has three children.
This movie is one of the best of its genre as far as I am concerned. Though
made for TV, a fair amount of research and money has gone into its
production, evident from how close to the actual facts the movie is. Being a
well documented true story, it's good to see the movie adhering to this. The
writing and characterisation is very realistic - nothing two dimensional or
superfluous here. It also follows the characters through a little of their
day before and why they're travelling on this particular flight. You become
emotionally attached and care about them, wondering who is going to live and
who is going to die.
Brilliant performances from the cast only raise the picture further. Barry Corbin and Dinah Manoff both went on to successful sitcoms (Northern Exposure and Empty Nest respectively), and it's not surprising from their acting in this film. The on screen chemistry between Jamie Rose and Kate Vernon (as flight attendants) has to be seen to be believed. It's enough to make you think they were actually friends in real life, not just actors brought together for a movie. They truly become who they're portraying.
What really adds to the film is the detail. The same airline that actually crashed is featured in the movie, the same aircraft type, and the details as to why the plane crashed are added in a way that you'll notice without it being in your face or detrimental to the story flow. Impressively, the actual cockpit dialog from the flight is repeated almost verbatim in the movie. Finally, actual news footage of the rescue that day is incorporated into the acted out footage, adding a deal of realism rarely seen in "crash movies".
The only bad marks I can give the film is for the total unrealistic "crash" scene. Obviously there was no special effects budget. Also, the "cars on the bridge" are obviously not real and shot in a studio, another downfall for a movie that is otherwise virtually flawless.
Flight 90: Disaster On The Potomac - definitely worth watching, and not one to miss - for plane buffs and movie buffs alike!
I was scheduled to be on this exact flight, returning to Florida from
Washington after doing some military research at the Pentagon, however
due to a family health problem canceled out two days before ...
Have thought of this moment many, many times over these last now 25+ years in wondering " what if " ...
This docudrama sets out the most important facts of that horrible day in very close detail ... It may possibly have been better, however it does tell the true story ...
The major miracle is that there were 5 survivors and even more most heroic men and women who took it upon themselves to throw themselves into this unbelievable rescue operation ... They are the real and true heroes of that day ...
This is a movie that should be put on video. It is very well done and very accurate. I haven't seen it since it originally aired on network television, but I still remember it very well. I remember the character played by Donnelly Rhodes kept passing his opportunity to escape to other survivors. It was heart-breaking to watch that play out. I remember Richard Masur's character trying to swim out to assist the survivors. I remember the woman who lost her husband and baby trying to find her will to survive. I was young when it aired and I remember people making a big deal about it the days leading up to it because it was so effective and accurate. I know I'd love to see it again.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I saw this movie on TV a few years ago and it kept my interest from the first scene to the last. The story was well done and at the start of the movie it showed the morning of the day the plane crash happened and how ordinary the day started out for the flight attendants and other plane personnel. The weather was so snowy and icy that day, the flight should never have left the ground. I remember the guy who was a passenger on the plane who ended up in the water and helped so many people to get to safety while ignoring his own needs. So heroic and noble. Barry Corbin played that part well. Also, great credit should be given to the real person who was a bystander on the side of the river and dove into the water encouraging people to try to swim to the banks of the river. This part was was played by Richard Mansur who was very good in his part. There were so many heroes that day that we don't even know about who helped as many people out of the water as they could. Firefighters, police, and other passengers on the plane. This accident would never have happened if the snowstorm warning had been heeded. It was well known in advance that the snowstorm was going to be severe. The movie was well done and very worthwhile to see, if its ever released on DVD or even if you see it on the TV. Since I saw the movie on the TV a few years ago, I never saw it on again.I can't figure out why this movie was never released on DVD when so many other movies not nearly as good have been released a few times. At the very least the movie should have been released on video years ago. If it was, I never saw it or I would have bought it right away. The acting and story are well done, and it keeps your interest from start to finish.I wish some movie studio would pick this movie up and release it on DVD as soon as possible. I am sure it would sell well. My opinion anyway.
The made-for-TV movie FLIGHT 90: DISASTER ON THE POTOMAC, which aired
on April 1, 1984, recreates one of the most horrific air crashes in
On January 13, 1982, Air Florida Flight 90 had taken off from Washington National Airport in Arlington County, Virginia, just two miles from the White House, bound for Fort Lauderdale, Florida in poor weather conditions. After just thirty seconds in the air, and achieving a maximum altitude of only 350 feet, it then crashed onto the 14th Street Bridge and then into the ultra-frigid Potomac River. Of the five crew members onboard, only one of them survived (with serious injuries); of the seventy-four passengers, all but four of them died; and on the bridge, four motorists sustained fatal injuries. The plane had not been properly de-iced before taking off from National; and rescue efforts were deemed to be extremely flawed.
What might otherwise have been a garden-variety air disaster TV film got a very good treatment by use of a lot of authentic video footage from that actual day, and a desire by both director Robert Michael Lewis and screenwriter John McGreevey not to overdramatize things. There are some fairly familiar faces in the cast (Stephen Macht; Richard Masur; Barry Corbin, etc.), but this isn't a spot-the-star affair meant to exploit a horrible tragedy. It isn't always perfect, but it thankfully sticks to the facts without being gratuitous in the way things are presented.
I remember this day, 13 January 1982, vividly. I had been working the day shift for AT&T at 30 E St S.W. in Washington DC. We received warning that the weather was turning extremely bad, and the company made a safety decision to close and have people go home early in order to beat the dangerous weather predicted. I was a member of a car pool traveling from Washington DC to Woodbridge, VA where we lived. As we started to leave DC, the snow began coming down so fast that it was like traveling in fog. Visibility was very poor. As we approached the 14th Street bridge, we became aware of something serious happening. There was a lot of commotion and emergency vehicles everywhere. The traffic was stopped on the bridge, and at first we weren't aware of what happened. As the traffic was not moving, we all exited our vehicle to see what the problem was. We were about mid span on the bridge when it was closed. It was a horrific scene that greeted us. There was the Airliner in the water/ice with only the tail showing. Watching the movie brought this scene back to me. The water froze over almost as soon as the ice was broken. I remember seeing someone in what looked like a gray flight suit frozen in the river. This still haunts me to his day. This film was very true to the events of that incident, and had it not been for a few heroic individuals, especially the clerk who dove in the freezing water to rescue the stewardess, and an awfully good National Parks Service Helicopter Pilot, whose helicopter skids actually touched below the water, I don't think anyone would have survived. It was sad to see all the emergency responders on the shoreline in confusion as they were not able to communicate with one another. Their emergency frequencies were all different. This movie definitely deserves the Emmie's it was nominated for, and should be out on DVD.
I remembered the crash vividly and how there were only five survivors.
I also remember this movie very well. The cast was pictured sitting
around, looking very serious, holding life preservers and flotation
rings. There was no scene of the crash, we see a man in a car looking
up at the unseen plane, then the screen goes black and we hear the
crash; fade to commercial. Comes back and we see people running to the
bridge and the edge of the river.
Before the crash, we are handed the stories of Jamie Rose, Richard Backus, Richard Masur, Donelly Rhodes, Barry Corbin, Stephen Macht and Dinah Manoff. The only survivor we are not told about is Kelly Duncan, played by Kathleen Wilhote. This crash was the one that began pointing out the survivors came from the end of the plane, and all we see of Kelly Duncan is that she is seated in the very rear of the plane. The makers of this film were too eager to tell this story, something that, thanks to the Amy Fisher movies, we have hopefully seen the last of. Because of this, the part of rescuer Lenny Skutnik was reduced to an absolute minimum with no emphasis whatsoever. Skutnik felt the movie was exploitive of the survivors, among them, Prisilla Tirado, played by Dinah Manoff, whom he had rescued. Therefore the part of Richard Masur came into prominence. An outstanding moment is when relations are trying to find out if their loved ones have survived. We see Ken Olin, who knows his fiancée cannot have lived. The nurse asks who he is waiting for. He tells her 'Nikki'. She replies the female survivors are Kelly and Prisilla and Pat.
He leaps to his feet and says she goes by the name Pat. From there, we venture to Corbin's survival and learn that Pat Finch, played by Jeannetta Arnette would walk down the aisle at her wedding one year later. Except for the Skutnik problem, this could have been an enlightening movie.
I remember seeing this when it first aired. I thought it would be another junk TV movie, but it was a little above average. I recall thinking how cold that water must have been for the survivors and if I could withstand it. I got a chill in the beginning right before the plane went down. The pilot said to the co-pilot something like,"Were going down", and the response was ,"I know it." Heres another movie that should be on DVD. This is TV queen Dinah Manoff at her finest.They used real footage of the plane crash inter-cut with the movie. I'd like to see it again. Maybe it will pop up on a cable channel. These old 80s TV movies are hard to come by.
When one decides what film they want to watch, this is not what would
come to mind. I came into this picking it at random and not expecting
much out of it, especially since it is a TV movie. What I got was more
than I thought, especially when the film picks up when the disaster
The beginning of the film sets up the characters that are involved one way or another with the crash, which feels obligatory because who else could be characters in the film? This had a few cute scenes, but overall, the first act of the movie I felt was tepid because the pacing was slow at times. To be honest, that's the flaw this film has because it takes too much time setting up.
BUT when the film DOES get going, it doesn't crash like the plane. In fact, it soars with some authentic footage from the actual event as well as heartbreak and a feeling of togetherness. When the film picks up steam, the storyline becomes red-hot.
For this reason, the film actually becomes a great stand alone film. The pacing throughout the film is comparable to that of the 2014 film Pompeii in that that movie also took its sweet time to set up before bringing out the big guns with its central disaster, therefore allowing me to also be satisfied with that film, just like this one.
Since this movie is free on YouTube, you can easily check this out, and if you're in the mood for a TV movie, that's exactly what you should do as long as you are prepared to make it through the average first half of the film.
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