Last night’s episode of 9-1-1 switched up the format, focusing largely on just one emergency — a plane crashing into the ocean — and its effects. But as we all know, the emergencies on 9-1-1 are inspired not just by true stories, but by stories gone viral, and that’s why the REALEST event in the episode was actually happening on a completely different airplane.
While Bobby (Peter Krause) and the other firefighters are in the water, attempting to recover the survivors from the downed plane, Athena (Angela Bassett) responds to a report of a disruptive passenger onboard another plane at the airport — one that has been grounded until authorities determine what caused the original plane to crash.
What that clip doesn’t show is the epic rant Athena goes on against the airport cop because, as you can probably guess, the footage captured on that cell phone reveals that the passenger did NOT, in fact, assault the officer first. The problem is that the airline had ordered the passengers to remain onboard the plane — it wasn’t an edict that had come from law enforcement. At that point the people had been stuck for hours, and when the passenger in question demanded to be let off the plane, the airport cop used excessive force to restrain him by… well, duct taping him to his seat.
“That badge says Los Angeles airport police. And now you’re telling me that you’re taking orders from CEOs? An industry whose motto is “the customer is always the moron?” They make a billion dollars a year on baggage fees, and you’re on their side? Your knees pressing against the seat in front of you because they want to add three extra rows, and you’re on their side? Five damn peanuts in that bag, and you’re on their side?”
Ok, so the rant itself is NOT the most realistic thing the show has ever done — it sounds more like the words of an irate blogger than an LAPD officer — but Angela Bassett can literally sell anything, so it works. However, the rest of the situation, from the duct tape to the cop enforcing orders from the airline to the cellphone footage, does come from real life situations.
- In 2013 a photo of an unruly passenger, who got drunk on an Icelandair flight to New York City, made the rounds. In it the passenger has been duct taped to his seat, supposedly by the other passengers on the plane.
- In May of 2017 there were reports of another passenger, onboard an American Airlines flight to Honolulu, being restrained with duct tape. Though the airline claims duct tape wasn’t used, the actual story (involving smoking in the bathroom and a suspected laptop bomb) is far stranger.
- And then, of course, there’s the famous case of David Dao, the passenger who refused to give up his seat on an overbooked United Airlines flight in April 2017 and was forcibly removed by airport security. And by “forcibly” I mean Dao suffered a broken nose, a concussion, and lost two teeth in the struggle — though he was paid a settlement from the airline after the fact. Cellphone footage captured by other passengers went viral, making the story a national headline (and a PR nightmare for United):
As for the main emergency, I’m sure you can already recall one famous incident involving a plane crashing into water: the so-called “Miracle on the Hudson.” In 2009 US Airways pilot Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger landed his plane in the Hudson River shortly after takeoff. The plane was crippled after geese were sucked into its engines. All the passengers survived the crash landing. But there is another case where the passengers were not so lucky: American Airlines flight 587. Just two months after 9/11, this plane bound for the Dominican Republic crashed three minutes after takeoff from JFK, coming down in Jamaica Bay and on the neighborhood streets nearby. There were no survivors, and though the immediate reaction was that it might be another act of terrorism (it wasn’t — there was a mechanical issue caused by turbulence), the tragedy is now remembered as America’s second deadliest plane crash.
There is one more part of the episode that also has ties to real life: that phone call from the passenger as the plane went down. On the show, a passenger calls 9-1-1 and reaches Abby (Connie Britton), and leaves a message for his pregnant wife saying how much he loves her since he knows that 9-1-1 calls are recorded. Later in the episode, Abby brings the wife into the call center to listen to the recording, after she finds out that the man did not survive the crash.
This may have been inspired by an actual 9/11 voicemail. Brian Sweeney, a passenger on United Airlines Flight 175, left a message for his wife:
“I’m on an airplane that’s been hijacked,” Sweeney said in a voicemail left to his wife, Julie Sweeney Roth. “If things don’t go well, and it’s not looking good, I just want you to know I absolutely love you, I want you to do good, go have good times—same to my parents and everybody—and I just totally love you, and I’ll see you when you get there. Bye, babe. I hope I call you.”
After leaving the message, Sweeney also called his mother — and shortly after, his plane crashed into the South Tower. That voicemail can now be listened to at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York City.
On the flip side, last night’s episode pushed forward the personal emergencies 9-1-1 likes to give its characters. And while I don’t find them nearly as compelling as the work emergencies they’re called on (the personal stuff comes off too bluntly, as though the writers know they have limited time to make an impact each episode AND THEY WILL, DAMMIT), it’s impossible not to care, because the actors are so good. Abby’s mom goes on a late night walkabout, which I’m sure will be picked up next episode. Athena is put on desk duty after she lies about a noise complaint in order to haul in her daughter’s bully. But it’s Bobby who gets the biggest moment of the episode, as he rescues a mother trapped in her seat from the sinking plane at the last minute… and then goes home and falls off the wagon. In addition to drinking, the audience also learns that Bobby doesn’t actually have a family waiting at home for him — though he sets four plates on the table as if he’s waiting for them. I’m sure that’s not going to have a thoroughly depressing explanation at all …