Rod Serling was no stranger to imagining the terror of everyday life. He created The Twilight Zone as well as the 1966 TV movie The Doomsday Flight. Looking back on the film, it’s chilling to see the parallels between the story and 9/11. Do you know what to do if your plane is hijacked?
In The Doomsday Flight, a disgruntled former engineer claims to have planted a bomb inside a 767 headed out of Los Angeles. It’s rigged to explode when the plane drops below 4000 feet. Eventually, the pilot (played by Van Johnson) figures out a way to save the day, but not before panic nearly costs the lives of everyone on board the plane.
The plot isn’t that much different from Speed–but that movie didn’t get banned from the airwaves!
Real-Life Copycats and a TV Ban
In the aftermath of the film, pranksters called airlines and pretended to have hidden bombs aboard outgoing flights. In 1971, a caller tricked Qantas officials into believing he’d actually placed a bomb on a flight out of Sydney, Australia–and, unbelievably, the airline paid the ransom of $560,000!
After that happened, the Federal Aviation Administration issued a warning to TV stations to ban the film. You can still find it on VHS and bootlegged on YouTube, however, if you’re curious to see The Doomsday Flight.
What To Do If Your Plane Is Actually Hijacked
Bizarrely, plane hijacking–or skyjacking–was actually pretty common for a brief period in the late 60s and early 70s, with more than 130 incidents. Although stringent security measures are in place to stop hijackers, especially after 9/11, you should still be prepared in case it happens to you.
The US National Terror Alert site issued these instructions:
Remember that the hijackers will be extremely nervous and probably as scared as you are. Although they may appear calm, they cannot be trusted to behave reasonably or rationally.
Fear can trigger a disaster. One wrong move by either a victim or a hijacker could easily set off a defensive spate of violence.
What does that mean for you, as a passenger aboard a hijacked plane? Don’t try to be a hero. Comply with all instructions, even if your instincts are to stand up and help. In the extremely unlikely event that your plane is hijacked, it’s probably going to be a disruptive passenger acting on their own rather than a coordinated terrorist attack.
In any case, don’t make eye contact with the hijackers or make any sudden movements. Above all, don’t verbally engage with them unless forced to do so. The pilots will coordinate with air traffic control to attempt to defuse the situation and get everyone to safety.
In addition, the airline crews are trained in self-defense. Chances are good that your attempt to help might actually disrupt the efforts of the crew.
The best thing you can do is stay calm and keep your head down.