Airport 1975 is a 1974 Disaster film and the first sequel to the successful 1970 hit Airport. Unlike the original film, Airport 1975 was a bona fide "blockbuster" disaster film, with an "all-star" cast and extensive promotional campaign. The movie is one among many of a class of Disaster films that became a movie-going craze during the 1970s. Its plot devices and characterizations, including a singing nun (Helen Reddy), a former glamorous star (Gloria Swanson as herself), an alcoholic (Myrna Loy), a child in need of an organ transplant (Linda Blair) and a chatterbox (Sid Caesar) were parodied in 1980's Airplane!. The characteristics of Airport 1975 were also used in numerous similar films to come, including the film's sequels Airport '77 and The Concorde...Airport '79.
Though derided by the critics upon its release, Airport 1975 was ultimately a success. With a budget of US$4 million, the film made over US$47 million at the box office. Helen Reddy was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Newcomer - Female. The film was included, however, in the popular book The Fifty Worst Films of All Time three years later in 1978.
Columbia Airlines' Flight 409 is a red-eye Boeing 747-100 en route from Washington Dulles to Los Angeles. Scott Freeman is a New Mexico business man with an urgent sales meeting in Boise. Failure to take this meeting threatens half his sales commissions for the coming year. He is en route in his private Beechcraft Baron.
However, an occluded front has the entire West Coast socked in, with Los Angeles reporting zero visibility. That not only affects the Columbia flight but also precludes Freeman making his meeting in Boise. Both flights are diverted to Salt Lake City.
Both the Baron and the 747 enter Salt Lake's entry pattern. Air traffic control assign the jumbo to enter the pattern first, followed by the Beechcraft. As Columbia 409 is making its final approach, First Officer Urias feels a vibration on one of the adjacent panels and rises to check it out. Freeman, now rather anxious about his missed sales meeting makes a call to the Salt Lake Tower asking about the delay. The tower confirms that he is second to land after the big jet. Here, Freeman suffers a massive coronary. As he grabs his chest the Baron falls out of the pattern and descends into the approach of Columbia 409.
"Columbia four-oh-niner heavy, the Baron is at twelve-thirty." Those are the last words before Captain Stacey looks up and sees the Baron just feet from the windshield. The Beechcraft impacts the flight deck just above the co-pilot seat. First Officer Urias, still standing, is instantly blown from the cockpit. Flight Engineer Julio receives a massive cranial trauma. Captain Stacey receives debris in the face and is blinded.
The decompression is extreme and knocks one of the stewards from the upper lounge down to the cabin below. Nancy Pryor, the head flight attendant rushes up to the flight deck to find Urias gone, Julio dead, and Stacey badly maimed. Fortunately the captain is able to engage the autopilot and the altitude hold switch to keep the airplane in the air before losing consciousness.
A call from the Salt Lake control tower as to what happened to the flight Nancy Pryor, in a panicky voice, informs the tower that the crew is dead or badly injured and that there is no one to fly the plane. The Salt Lake tower tells Pryor to stay on the same frequency. Pryor gives the assessment of the damage as a large hole on the starboard side of the flight deck that wiped out most of the instrument gauges over the engineer station.
Columbia president of operations Joe Patroni, recently a head mechanic for Trans World Airlines, is apprised of 409's situation. He seeks the advice of Captain Al Murdoch, Columbia's chief instructor on 747's for the previous four years. Patroni and Murdoch take Columbia's executive jet to Salt Lake. En route, they also communicate with Pryor who is still in the cockpit. While the autopilot is keeping the aircraft in level flight, it is inoperable for turns. Something has to be done, as the jet is heading into the Wasatch Mountains. After successfully guiding Pryor by radio on how to perform the turn, radio communications are interrupted and the Salt Lake tower is unable to restore contact. Unable to turn, leaking fuel, and dodging the peaks of the Wasatch Mountains, an air to air rescue attempt is undertaken from a jet-powered HH-53 Super Jolly Green Giant helicopter flown by the USAF Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Service. Captain Murdock, tethered to the rear of the helicopter, is lowered to the jet and successfully enters it through the hole in the cockpit. He then lands the plane safely at Salt Lake City Airport.