What the Airline Industry Thinks of "Flight" With Denzel Washington

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Pilots used to avoid alcohol "because the job paid so well they would not want to screw up and lose the job," he said. "Now, it's just a matter of integrity."

The movie is "supported by technical facts (particularly the hearing process) that are accurate, but the premise is ludicrous," he said. Thus, a fictional NTSB official, presumably based on NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman, leads the questioning. But her line of questioning is clearly not the line of questioning that Hersman would pursue, rather, it obliterates the necessity to arrive at the truth in an accident investigation.

In replicating a crash, the movie relies on details from a 2000 Alaska (ALK) crash that killed 83 passengers and five crew members. In that crash, a jackscrew failed due to excessive wear and inadequate maintenance. The jackscrew failure led to the failure of the horizontal stabilizer, which normally adjusts the flight control surfaces on the airplane's tail. The plane went into a dive, which the pilots were able to halt. But they could not halt a subsequent dive, which resulted in a crash that killed everyone on board. During the incident, in real life and in the movie, the airplane flew upside down in the last minute of a rapid, uncontrolled descent.

In the movie, the maneuver saved the aircraft. Real life was somewhat different: the upside down flying was unintended and harmful, part of the aircraft's final downward spiral.

John Goglia was a National Transportation Safety Board member during the investigation of the Alaska crash. Throughout the flight, Goglia said, the pilots had no control over the stabilizer. In the final descent, "the airplane flipped upside down because they couldn't control the position of the stabilizer," he said. "The pilots started to lower the flaps and (the plane) flipped upside down." He said the maneuver was totally unintentional and the airplane could not have survived structurally.

Flying upside down "cannot possibly help you," Goglia said, even if you are Denzel Washington.

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.

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