Mayday, also known as Air Emergency in the United States and Air Crash Investigation in the UK and Australia, is a Canadian documentary series about aircraft accidents and incidents.Episodes usually start In Medias Res while the disaster is underway, following them with a sequence of the disaster and the following investigation, and at the end a re-enaction of how the disaster occurred and of how measures were taken to prevent the disaster from happening again.
Subverted in the Tenerife special. Captain Van Zanten was KLM's most experienced and decorated pilot, and was regarded with such esteem that he served as KLM's spokesman and appeared in all of KLM's print adverts. It was this preceding reputation — as well as the fact that he was the pilot who had certified his first officer on the Tenerife flight — that probably factored into the crew's reluctance to stop him from impatiently taking off from the crowded, foggy airport without ATC clearance. This resulted in the destruction of two jumbo jets, the loss of 500+ lives, and the worst aviation disaster in history. (When KLM found out that one of their jets crashed in Tenerife, they tried to contact Captain Van Zanten to have him clean up the PR mess. They then realized that he was the pilot involved in the crash.)
Perhaps played straight with Captain Sullenberger and the Flight 1549 crew. Considering the panicky reactions we have seen from even the blameless flight crews so far in the series, the Danger Deadpan demeanor with which the 1549 pilots handle their situation is almost surreal.
A couple of other episodes on Eastern Flight 401 and United Flight 173 also show how having an ace pilot can be a liability instead of an asset. Flight crews are now trained to work together as a team, thanks to these accidents.
Ax-Crazy: Or, in the case of the would-be skyjacker in "Fight for Your Life", Hammer-and-Speargun Crazy.
Bald of Evil: David Burke, the man who crashes PSA 1771 to get back at his employers.
Clip Show: The "Science of Disaster" episodes can be counted as this, as it's usually half a recap of air disasters centering around a theme (ATC, bad weather, pilot errors, etc.) and half an explanation about the theme itself and how to prevent similar disasters in the future.
Inevitable. The pilots seen on the show either handle the incident very professionally, committed errors that caused the incidents, or were victims of hijacking attempts. On two occasions, the show covered a pilot who may have purposefully crashed the plane in a murder-suicide.
Captain Lutz of Crossair Flight 3597 was almost literally this before his fatal accident, and yet his airline continued to let him fly.
The captain of the "Gimli Glider" happened to be an experienced glider pilot and pulled off some gliding maneuvers to land the plane after it ran out of fuel.
One of the pilots in "Fight for your Life" used to fly jet fighters in the Navy, and used his instincts from that area to maneuver his plane into taking a hijacker off-balance.
Crash Course Landing: Averted; see "Ghost Plane" below. The male flight attendant who was the only conscious person on the plane was possibly under the influence of hypoxia and was unable to pilot it. The plane eventually ran out of fuel and crashed.
Dirty Old Man: The first officer of Egyptair 990 had been caught sexually harassing female employees at the hotel at which he and the other Egyptair crew and management had been staying. This gets him in trouble with Egyptair management, who tell him he'll be fired after returning to Egypt... which leads him to crash flight 990 in revenge.
Disaster Dominoes: It's basically one long sequence of these. For example, Crash of the Century has the dominoes from lack of ground radar, an overloaded airport, bad communication, foggy weather and a captain too eager to take off.
Distant Prologue: The China Airlines Flight 611 episode opens 22 years before the crash, showing the tailstrike that eventually led to the plane's breakup.
Does This Remind You of Anything?: Auburn Calloway and the Air France hijackers both ultimately wanted to kamikaze their planes into buildings; Calloway targeted Fed-Ex's headquarters in Memphis while the Air France hijackers planned to gun for the Eiffel Tower. The parallels to a certain terrorist attack are not ignored.
Eject...Eject...Eject...: Used frequently during the reenactments with standard alarms or, in more recent incidents, mechanical voice warnings of "PULL UP! PULL UP!"
Fire-Forged Friends: The passengers and crew of British Airways Flight 9 started their own club after their strange and nightmarish ordeal.
Foreign Cuss Word: In "Pilot vs. Plane", the pilot audibly shouts "Merde!" right before he crashes his plane into a forest.
"Runaway Train", about the San Bernardino train disaster. First, a runaway freight train derails at a bend in the tracks and crashes into a residential neighborhood. Then, about a week later, the whole neighborhood is blown up by a gas pipeline damaged in the crash.
"Attack Over Baghdad", about a DHL cargo plane that was hit with a surface-to-air missile by Iraqi insurgents. The crew managed to safely land the plane...only to learn that they may have landed in a mine field.
Full House Music: It usually plays this trope straight at emotional scenes (victim funerals, photos of the plane wreckages, the last few seconds when there's no hope, the first few seconds after the crash, etc).
Ghost Ship: The name of th episode "Ghost Plane". It concerned Helios Airways Flight 522, which lost contact with air-traffic controllers and was intercepted by Greek fighter jets, which found that everyone on the plane except the male flight attendant was unconscious. The plane ran out of fuel and crashed. It was determined that an incorrect setting on the cabin pressurization panel caused the pilots and passengers to succumb to hypoxia.
Ghost Story: What follows the crash of Eastern Air Lines Flight 401.
Gorn: The interior of the Fed-Ex cargo plane following Auburn Calloway's attempted hijacking.
Handicapped Badass: The Captain of TACA Flight 110 is missing an eye but still manages to land his crippled plane. On a levee no less.
Hope Spot: Air Canada Flight 797 managed to safely land after a severe on-board fire, and it seemed that the passengers would all make it off the plane... until the plane's doors were opened and a flashover occurred, which incinerated the interior and killed 23 people
James Tucker, an ex-Navy pilot who not only flew the plane with a hole in his skull and half of his body suffering paralysis, but did extreme aerial maneuvers with said jumbo cargo plane (including insane rolls, sharp turns, and a dive so steep that the plane nearly went supersonic) to throw the attempted hijacker off-balance as the man fought with the two other crew members in the galley, eventually trading places with David Sanders to restrain said hijacker. With half of his body paralyzed and a hole in his skull.
David Sanders, who was also an ex-Navy pilot, was also hit in the head with a hammer and suffered gashes to his head (requiring doctors to sew his right ear back into place), and not only managed to land the extremely weighed-down aircraft successfully, but pulled off sharp turns normally near-impossible with said plane to land it...with his glasses missing and blood flowing into his eyes...manually.
It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time: The root cause of some of the disasters caused by pilot error. "Kid in the Cockpit" concerned a famous Russian case where a senior airline pilot allowed his teenaged son to take the controls of a brand new Airbus A310. The teen inadvertently disabled the plane's autopilot and the flight crew, unfamiliar with the state-of-the-art aircraft, failed to bring it back under control. Tragic hilarity ensued. An especially needless tragedy given that the investigators found that everything would have been fine if they had just let go of the control column.
Jerk Ass: Captain Van Zanten, leading him to trigger the Tenerife disaster.
One example is in the episode Bomb on Board, which recycles the same clip for taking off and landing with the thrust reversers deployed.
Crash of the Century: Another episode about the Tenerife disaster, which involved a collision between two 747s, Pan Am and KLM, introduces the KLM plane with a shot of it in flight...with winglets, identifying it as a 747-400, which at the time of the disaster (1977) would not be put into production for another 11 years.
In one episode, it is clear that the people making the show believe that any twinjet in an American Airlines livery must be an A300.
In "Fire on Board," when the narrator mentions the first officer shutting down the number two engine, a shot of the right-wing engine shutting down is shown. In reality, on the MD-11 and other trijets, the tail-mounted engine is designated as number two.
"Gimli Glider" was about a Boeing 767 that ran out of fuel over Canada because of improper calculations involving pounds vs kilograms. The pilot managed to miraculously pull off a dead stick landing that couldn't be replicated by any subsequent pilot that attempted the scenario in a simulator. The pilots in the simulated flight always ended up crashing the plane.
"Falling from the Sky" concerns a British jumbo jet that saw all four of its engines fail after accidentally flying into a cloud of volcanic ash over Indonesia. After managing to restart the engines, the flight crew managed to land the plane despite the windscreen having been sandblasted opaque, relying entirely on instruments.
"Blow Out" concerns a captain who was partially sucked out of his own cockpit thanks to faulty maintenance of the windscreen, his body subsequently subjected to a freezing 500mph slipstream over 17,000 feet above England. Despite overwhelming physical odds, the captain survived the ordeal with only frostbite and a few bone fractures. And he continues to fly.
Oh Crap: Expressed by various pilots, passengers, and/or air traffic controllers just before the bad stuff goes down.
Perhaps seen most effectively in Crash of the Century, which covers the Tenerife disaster. The First Officer of the Pan-Am flight is positively horrified as he sees the KLM jumbo barreling down the runway towards his plane, as is the Dutch captain seeing the Pan-Am plane directly in front of him.
In "Head On Collision", a rail passenger with a view of the track in front of him realizes that his passenger train is about to collide with a freight train head-on.
In "Air France 447: Vanished", the captain has this reaction when he realizes that his co-pilots' diverging inputs to the side-stick controls are leading the plane into a stall.
Outside Ride: The captain of British Airways Flight 5390 goes through this when a blown-out windshield leads to him getting sucked out of the cockpit and pinned to the fuselage.
Pilots Like Crazy: The KLM captain in the Tenerife special is portrayed as this, and for good reason.
Stupid Crooks: The hijackers in "Ocean Landing," who think that their plane can make the trip to Australia since they read it in the in-flight magazines, and refuse to believe the captain when he says they don't have enough fuel.
It is known that South African Airways Flight 295, the subject of "Fanning the Flames", was brought down by an on-board fire. But whether it was accidential or the result of Apartheid Era espionage remains unknown.
Subverted with "Death and Denial", about Egypt-Air Flight 990. The episode presents the case that the plane was deliberately brought down by the First Officer, and that the Egyptian government's official explanation of mechanical failure was made due to the Arab culture's aversion to suicide than to the facts. Therefore, the cause of the crash is known, yet cannot be officially determined because of the differing politics and social mores between the U.S. and Egypt.
And then again with "Pushed to the Limit", about SilkAir Flight 185. Like in "Death and Denial", this episode presents the case that the plane was deliberately brought down by a crew member (this time, the Captain), and that the Indonesian government's official explanation of mechanical failure was made because the entire Boeing 737 line, at the time of the incident, had been dealing with a mechanical issue with the rudder's control unit that had previously caused the crash of two other 737s (which themselves were profiled in the episode "Hidden Dangers"). Again, known cause of crash, no official determination.
This Cannot Be!: Said by the captain of Aeromexico 498 after he loses control of his plane.
Turbine Blender: In the episode on United 811, it's mentioned that human remains were found in the right inboard engine.
The same actor who plays the captain of JAL Flight 123 plays the captain of Korean Air Cargo Flight 8509.
One of the U.S. crewmen who shot down Iran Air 655 is played by Chris Owens, who also played Jeffrey Spender on The X-Files.
The very attractive stewardess from AA Flight 4184 "Frozen in Flight" reappears as the Air Canada check in desk girl in "Explosive Evidence" who fatefully booked "M Singh"'s bag onto Air India Flight 182.