Fatal Flight Stunts on Hollywood Movie Sets

The most infamous case of tragedy taking place on a Hollywood movie set involving air flight stunts unquestionably must be that related to the three deaths that took place one night during the making of “Twilight Zone: The Movie.” That high profile case ultimately landed director John Landis in a courtroom defending charges of involuntary manslaughter. The trial ended with an acquittal that can only have come as a surprisingly unexpected bit of good luck to Landis considering the evidence presented during the trial that is easy enough to view as being entirely at odds with the perspective taken by the jury.  Although highly publicized, the history of tragic consquences associated with the business of filmmaking and the utilization of stunts involving air flight extend well beyond an ill-advised helicopter stunt that end with the deaths of actor Vic Morrow and two children.

Top Gun

No other movie since the military draft was eliminated has probably done as much to stimulate interest in enlistment as the exciting flight scenes in “Top Gun.” The aerial acrobatics that made it seem as though Tom Cruise and other young actors were playing the world’s most exciting video game rather than recreating the situations that could lead to death during combat was the greatest propaganda film for the military since World War II. One of the real life pilots who made those scenes so exciting, Art Scholl, took to the skies to perform a flat spin, but reported he was having problems with the jet. Unable to control the situation and doing everything he could to avoid a greater tragedy, Scholl crashed his plane into the waters off the coast of Carlsbad, California.

The Skywayman

One of the earliest Hollywood movie set tragedies to involve aircraft stunts gone wrong took place in 1920 during the making of a silent film titled “The Skywayman.” The scene called for aviator Ormer Locklear to perform daring dives above an oil field from which rose a crop of oil rigs. According to the Century of Flight web site, the stunt was to be filmed at night with spotlights engaged to provide proper lighting. One of these bright lights temporarily blinded Locklear which caused him to lose control of the plane long enough for it to go into a tailspin from which he could not recover. Reports that footage of the accident was actually included in the film upon release may or may not be merely the stuff of Hollywood urban legend, but even if true the point is entirely moot at this time as “The Skywayman” is another one of early Hollywood’s lost films.

XXX

One of the most unusual movie set tragedies involving air flight occurred during the filming of this Vin Diesel action flick that was so heavy on stunts the real surprise is that the ultimate result wasn’t more tragic. Rather than helicopter or plane, the means of transport through the air that resulted in death on the set of “XXX” was a parasail. Harry O’Connor had already successfully completed the stunt, but was sure that a second attempt could produce an improved result. Perfectionism in this case cost O’Connor his life when his flight over a bridge ended with a collision with an unforgiving pillar.