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Death Flight

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"We are currently cruising at 30,000 feet. The terminal velocity of a human being is 250 feet per second. This means you have approximately two minutes to think about why you should not steal diamonds that belong to the Fuhrer."

A method of murder commonly associated with extrajudicial killings perpetrated by authoritarian and totalitarian regimes, a death flight involves someone being dropped from an airborne vehicle high in the air, often into remote wilderness areas or large bodies of water. The benefits of this method of killing are obvious: it combines murder and body disposal in one fell swoop. The bodies are often not discovered before the elements, wildlife and decomposition can make work of them, and even if they are, it's not always easy to determine who killed them — or if they were even murdered in the first place. The identity of the victim and even the time of death can also be obfuscated given the right circumstances. Not only that, but the purpose of these flights is generally not immediately obvious to those not in the know (unless they happen to witness people falling out, of course). There are still risks and drawbacks, however, such as (usually) having to log a flight plan, the possibility of interception en route, or even sufficiently resourceful prisoners managing to turn the tables on their captors and send them plummeting to their deaths.

Many fictional uses of this trope take inspiration from the infamous use of this method of murder by the far-right military dictatorships that ruled the Southern Cone countries of South America during The '70s and The '80s to "disappear" those who spoke out against their policies or were otherwise politically inconvenient.

One variant is the use of deception rather than force, tricking someone into boarding an aircraft and then throwing them off at the right opportunity. In more fantastic settings, characters able to fly under their own power may do this without a vehicle. Another popular variation is threatening to do this as a form of High-Altitude Interrogation. Yet another involves jumping (often super-jumping) or teleportation rather than flight.

A subtrope of Disney Villain Death. Compare Destination Defenestration and Thrown Out the Airlock. When someone is murdered on a plane, see Death in the Clouds. May overlap with Unhand Them, Villain!. See also Chute Sabotage. Contrast Death from Above. Not to be confused with Thrown from the Zeppelin, though there can certainly be overlap.

As this is a Death Trope, unmarked spoilers abound. Beware.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In a case of No Kill like Overkill, in Mobile Suit Gundam Wing, once General Septum has outlived his usefulness to her, Lady Une drops him out of the plane they're on and shoots him in the head while he's falling through the air.
  • In the Tenchi Muyo! one-off movie Daughter of Darkness, Ryoko becomes both suspicious and jealous of the mysterious newcomer Mayuka, who claims to be Tenchi's daughter, and eventually conducts an aerial kidnapping in an attempt to get information. When Mayuka seems unable to answer her questions, Ryoko drops her, but she wakes up shortly after, unharmed, on Tenchi's roof. The scene is revisited at the end, revealing that Ryoko relented and caught Mayuka before she hit the ground.

    Comic Books 
  • The Authority: Engineer once got tackled in mid-flight by an Hulk expy who refused to let go of her, was invulnerable to her guns, and was slowing crushing the life out of her. To kill him, she flew up out of Earth's atmosphere until he died from a lack of oxygen.
  • The Boys:
    • Under the administration of Dakota Bob Schaefer (a Dick Cheney expy), foreigners arrested on terrorism charges aren't detained in Guantanamo Bay. Instead, they're put on "flights to Anchorage" and thrown out while flying over the Bering Strait. Billy Butcher says that merely mentioning "Anchorage" is enough to make terrorist prisoners start pissing their pants.
    • Pre-Whiz, the only G-Men team to survive Vought's massacre, is thrown into a shipping container and given a flight to Anchorage by Vought authorities.
    • When Homelander starts to lose it, he awards a lucky family a brand-new car they won in a raffle, and he lifts the car with them inside of it to make their reward more special. He then has an A God Am I monologue, and as they float several thousand feet in the air, he lets go and sees the car drop all the way to the ground.
  • In Deadpool, Evil Deadpool has hijacked a private jet and disposes of the wealthy businessman whom the jet belonged to in this manner.
    Evil Deadpool: See that guy?
    Businessman: The Pilot?
    Evil Deadpool: Yeah. I need him to fly the plane. See that other guy?
    Businessman: The Co-Pilot?
    Evil Deadpool: Yeah. I need him to help that pilot guy. See her?
    Businessman: The Flight Attendant?
    Evil Deadpool: Yeah. I need her to pour drinks and to look at.
    Businessman: Okay.
    Evil Deadpool: I don't need you. [cut to the businessman being thrown out of the plane...]
  • Tales from the Crypt #43: In "Four-Way Split", an air freight business partner who used to man a bomb sight during the war kills his partner by dropping him out of the plane directly where four states meet, knowing he will go free as they squabble over the jurisdiction of the crime.
  • Tintin: This almost happens to Tintin and Snowy in King Ottokar's Sceptre. While traveling to Klow, Syldavia with Professor Alembick, their pilot pulls a lever, opening a door beneath Tintin and Snowy and dropping them. Luckily, Tintin lands in a stack of hay while Snowy falls slowly enough to get caught in the opening parachute deployed from Tintin's chair.

    Film - Animated 
  • Rango: When the titular protagonist traps himself in a glass bottle to escape a hawk, said hawk then grabs the bottle in its talons and flies upwards, before releasing the bottle in an attempt to kill him, which might have worked if the bottle hadn't landed on a toad.
  • Superman: Doomsday: This is how Toyman meets his end at the hands of clone Superman after the villain causes the death of a small child. This act confirms to Lois Lane and Martha Kent that there is something seriously wrong with the resurrected Man of Steel.

    Film - Live-Action 
  • The Avengers (2012). S.H.I.E.L.D. has this as a contingency plan from dealing with the Hulk—a cell in their Helicarrier that's designed to be dropped from a long way up. Loki tricks Thor into entering the cell and then hits the Big Red Button to do so.
  • Blue Thunder. This is the issue the protagonist Murphy has with Cochrane; during the Vietnam War Cochrane was doing a High-Altitude Interrogation in a helicopter that Murphy was flying. After getting the information however, Cochrane let the prisoner fall to his death.
  • Brightburn has the superpower version, when Brandon takes his mother up into the sky and drops her. To cover up this murder and others he's just committed, he then crashes an oncoming passenger airliner onto his family home.
  • In Con Air, Johnny 23 is threatened by Cyrus with being thrown off the plane if he ever tried to rape the only female guard on board.
  • In the opening scene of The Dark Knight Rises, CIA agent Bill Wilson pretends to execute and dispose of his captives by throwing them out of a plane mid-flight. But then Bane asks him why he feels the need to shoot them first, and it all goes pear-shaped for him from there.
  • Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid has a comedic heroic example in the protagonist's past.
    Juliet Forrest: Will two hundred dollars be enough in advance, Mr. Reardon?
    Rigby Reardon: Two hundred, I'd shoot my grandmother.
    Juliet Forrest: That won't be necessary.
    Rigby Reardon: Never can tell. In my last case, I had to throw my own brother out of an airplane.
  • Near the end of Dogma as the angels Bartleby and Loki get ready to enter the "Hip Jesus" church and go back to heaven, thus causing the destruction of all realities because they found the loophole in God's rules of creation, Bartleby, who has gone off the deep end is seen picking up random people, and dropping them from a great height for the hell of it.
  • In The Flying Man, the super-powered vigilante's preferred method of executing wrong-doers is to grab them, fly straight up, and drop them.
  • The Gods Must Be Crazy: In one scene, soldiers threaten to throw a pair of captured guerilla fighters out of a helicopter unless they agree to give information. One guerilla is pushed out blindfolded and quickly promises to talk in a panic... not realizing the helicopter has already landed and he's been tricked.
  • Godzilla:
    • Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster: At one point during their fight, Rodan picks Godzilla up and drops him into an electricity pylon from high up. This being Godzilla, it doesn't kill or even injure him, but it does knock out power to the area.
    • Godzilla vs. Destoroyah: When Destoroyah transforms into its final, most powerful form, it grabs Godzilla's son, flies high into the air, and drops him from a lethal height into a building. Then it blasts him with its Breath Weapon for good measure.
    • Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019): King Ghidorah attempts to kill Godzilla in the Final Battle by picking him up and dropping him from the lower stratosphere. He survives, but just barely, and it definitely takes the fight out of him.
  • The Good Shepherd: Edward Wilson Jr.'s fiancée, Miriam, happens to be a Soviet spy who seduces him into unknowingly giving her information about the Bay of Pigs invasion. While Edward Jr. is in Congo for their wedding waiting for her, the CIA catches Miriam and throws her out of the plane.
  • James Bond:
    • Tiger Tanaka from You Only Live Twice observes that a carful of mooks are tailing James Bond and Agent Aki. He orders a helicopter to dispose of these baddies. The heli lowers an electromagnet that attaches to the steel roof of the mooks' car, then airlifts them far out over the Sea of Japan before dropping them to their deaths.
      Tanaka: How's that for Japanese efficiency?
    • Live and Let Die. After Bond and Solitaire are captured in New Orleans, they're taken to a small airport where the Big Bad has an executive jet waiting. Solitaire is told she's to be flown back to the Big Bad's Island Base, while the mooks cheerfully tell Bond they intend to drop him onto a lake from several thousand feet up. Bond has no intention of playing along and makes an immediate escape.
    • A View to a Kill: When an investor tries to leave a meeting on Max Zorin's zeppelin, he realizes that it's airborne — just before Mayday drops him to his death with a Surprise Slide Staircase. Zorin then asks if anyone else wants to drop out.
  • Mulholland Falls. This turns out to be The Reveal of Allison's death, whose body is found with every bone broken, despite the lack of anything nearby that could have caused it.
  • In the climax of Now You See Me 2 Tressler and Mabry drag the Four Horsemen onto their private plane and take off, throwing them out when they reach 1,000 feet except the Horsemen set up a sound stage around the plane and only made it look like it had taken off, and Merritt probably planted the idea of throwing them out instead of just shooting them.
  • Pacific Rim: Attempted by Otachk after Gypsy Danger freezes her tail off, she even slams the mech against some buildings on her way up. However, Gypsy Danger slices her in two before she can drop them and the robot is able to use its chest turbine to slow its decent and survive the fall.
  • In Stuart Little 2, the film's Big Bad, a peregrine falcon, tries to pull this on Stuart. Obviously it doesn't work. Falcon even lampshades this trope:
    Margolo: Falcon! Don't hurt him!
    Falcon: Oh I won't hurt him! The sidewalk will!
  • Toy Soldiers: The terrorists are introduced capturing a judge and putting him on a helicopter just so it could fly straight up and kick him back out the door.
  • X-Men: First Class: Azazel kills pretty much the entire CIA contingent at the mansion by simply teleporting to each individual, teleporting to a great height, letting the agent go, and teleporting to the next victim. Rinse and repeat and you have a building cleared of redshirts before most of them are even aware of what's happening.

  • The Amtrak Wars novel "Iron Master" by Patrick Tilley. Steve Brickman is ordered by the Shogun to dispose of a treasonous official using this method, using the primitive aircraft being developed for the Iron Masters. His plan is to get him to take a joyflight with sabotaged safety harness, then do a sudden roll to dump him out of the passenger cockpit (which he demonstrates for the Shogun's herald, to his dismay—he's properly strapped in, of course). Turns out someone else will be flying the plane, so Steve just sets a bomb to disintegrate the aircraft in mid-air.
  • In Blonde Genius by J.T. Edson, Gus Saunders is ejected from a plane without a parachute while over the English Channel in a case of You Have Outlived Your Usefulness.
  • Captain Underpants: Subverted in "Captain Underpants and the Preposterous Plight of the Purple Potty People". George and Harold's evil counterparts hypnotize Sulu and Crackers into trying to kill George and Harold, so Crackers flies into the sky with both boys. Harold assumes that "he" is planning on dropping them, but George points out that "he" is taking them to safety. This is subtle foreshadowing that Crackers is actually female, as it was previously established that women always do the opposite of what they're told if the 3D Hypno Ring is used on them.
  • Dragon Jousters: A standard military tactic used by the Jousters consists of swooping down onto an opposing force, having your dragon grab an officer, fly up, then let go. Ari has a Heroic BSoD after some other Jousters decide to use this tactic on a group of civilians as a game.
  • In the third Guardians of the Flame book The Silver Crown, the protagonists capture some mercenary assassins sent to kill them, though not before a family of innocent civilians under their protection had been killed. Ellegon, their allied dragon who can read minds, flies off with one of them in his mouth who'd slit the child's throat after discovering he had a great fear of heights presumably to drop him to his death elsewhere.
  • In Another World with My Smartphone: Touya faces off against a Phrase monster with Super-Toughness that makes it invulnerable to just about any sort of attacks anyone attempts to inflict via weapons or magic. Before going to fight it, Touya rides on his flying base directly above where the monster is located. Then later, he activates the Gate spell, which can be used to travel to any location he's been to before. The Gate opens up exactly where Touya was while flying earlier, and the monster plummets thousands of feet and shatters to its demise on impact.
  • In the Modesty Blaise novel The Impossible Virgin, Modesty and Willie are captured by the villain and loaded onto a private plane to be flown to the villain's base. Mid-flight, over mountainous wilderness, the villain has Willie thrown out, still strapped to a chair. By a great stroke of luck, Willie lands on something soft and survives.
  • The eagle hunting method is referenced in Small Gods when an eagle picks up and drops a tortoise that turns out to be the Amnesiac God Om trapped in the form of a tortoise from lack of faith. Fortunately he lands in a soft compost heap. Later Om tricks another eagle into picking him up and uses some strategically placed bites to save his last true worshiper from being burned as a heretic.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Season One of Altered Carbon, a prostitute who died this way turns out to be related to the Driving Question of why Laurens Bancroft was shot.
  • Annika (2021): In episode 2x5, the Victim Ofthe Week ismurdered by being pushed out of a seaplane in flight over a loch.
  • In Narcos, Colonel Carillo throws two sicarios out of a military helicopter for refusing to give information about their boss, the infamous Pablo Escobar.
  • Return of Ultraman: A recurring tactic for Ultraman Jack to finish off his kaiju opponents is the Ultra Lifter, a move which might have inspired the Seismic Toss from Pokemon, but in this case the outcomes are fatal. The move consist of Jack grabbing his enemies, flying into the air, and either dropping or throwing them from great height, which he uses to great effect against Giant Flyer Terochilus (Jack have to spin in circles while grabbing the monster's legs, to disorientate Terochilus long enough and prevent it from flying), Meteorite Monster Zagoras (which Jack lifts into the air and sends it crashing headfirst into its own meteorite, resulting in a fiery explosion that destroys both) and Arc Villain Alien Nackle (who gets lifted hundreds of meters into the stratosphere and flung over Jack's shoulders — Nackle lands on his head).
  • In WKRP in Cincinnati DJ Venus Flytrap revealed that he was a deserter from the Army during the Vietnam War. His real name was Gordon Simms, and he'd been living under an alias and keeping a low profile for years. When his friends at the station convinced him to go to the Army and come clean instead of staying on the run, he did so. During an interview with the Army investigator, he revealed one of the reasons he deserted was he was on a helicopter and two South Vietnamese officers were interrogating a North Vietnamese prisoner. The interrogation ended when the two officers threw the North Vietnamese prisoner out of the helicopter. Venus's friend was sitting next to him, and when he saw that, his friend simply smiled, stood up, shouldered his weapon, and marched out the helicopter door. As Venus noted, "We were at about 2000 feet." The Army investigator doing the research concluded that since Venus simply deserted when he had already been shipped home after his tour was up, and he was within a few days of being discharged anyway, the Army wouldn't pursue the matter and would simply issue him a general discharge.

    Video Games 
  • Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn: After Micaiah's attack on the Laguz Alliance, Tibarn, knowing how close she is to Sothe, takes him hostage by grabbing him and flying over a deep canyon, threatening to drop Sothe in order to force Micaiah to halt.
  • Subverted in Grand Theft Auto IV: The Ballad of Gay Tony where Luis throws a Perez Hilton expy out of a helicopter and then catches him in midair at the last minute, parachuting both of them to safety. All to punish the poor slob for slandering Gay Tony. The tabloid journalist survives. His pants do not.
  • Hitman (2016): General Zaydan intends to have his co-conspirator Claus Strandberg thrown off his own getaway flight to tie up a loose end.
  • In the Pokémon series, the attack Sky Drop involves the Pokémon taking their opponent in the air and dropping them below. Predictably, the attack doesn't harm Flying-type Pokémon.
  • Primal Carnage: The Pterandon's secondary attack is to swoop down and grab a human with its talons. Then, it flies up to a sufficient height and drops them to their death via fall damage (it can also sometimes kill by dropping them in an Acid Pool, into a Bottomless Pit, or into the path of another dinosaur). In order to escape, another human has to shoot the Pteranodon before it reaches a fatal height.

  • The Order of the Stick:
    • Xykon once killed Roy by levitating off of the flying undead dragon the two were fighting on and then blowing said dragon up with Meteor Swarm.
    • Tarquin's Card-Carrying Villain squad acquired a Magic Carpet by snatching it out from under its previous owner in midair.
      Tarquin: I promise he only missed it for a few seconds.
  • Unsounded: An unfortunate vliegeng pilot is tossed overboard to his death when Bell starts shouting that Roger Foi-Hellick is in the same manor as the queen and his passengers are overcome by the Etalarche Curse.

    Web Original 
  • Jreg:
    • Ancap talks a lot about having statists (particularly communists) thrown out of helicopters to their deaths.
      And if you're a commie the NAP cannot stop me
      From throwing you out the choppie and then McNuking your body!
    • Hoppean openly brags that in his territory, anybody he considers degenerate gets "forcibly removed into the ocean". The background of his section in "Ancapistan" is the inside of a helicopter.

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • In Chile under the rule of Augusto Pinochet, at least 120 people were thrown from helicopters into the Andes Mountains or the Pacific Ocean.
  • During Argentina's infamous Dirty War, many of those "disappeared" by the military juntas of the National Reorganization Process were drugged into a stupor, loaded onto aircraft, and then dropped into either the Río de la Plata or the Atlantic Ocean.
  • French paratroopers used death flights during the Algerian War, dropping captured rebels and dissidents into the Mediterranean Sea. When it turned out that some corpses would resurface, the executioners began attaching concrete blocks to their victims' feet.
  • During the 1947 Malagasy Uprising in Madagascar, live prisoners were known to sometimes be thrown out of airplanes into the Indian Ocean.
  • By the late 1970s, the military of Apartheid South Africa was making use of death flights to kill political activists and guerilla fighters, with the apartheid government going as far as to create a special branch of the South African Defense Force, the Delta 40, for this very purpose. Hundreds of rebels and dissidents were thrown off aircraft into the Atlantic Ocean off the Namibian coast during the height of the South African Border War.
  • In the Democratic Republic of the Congo under Mobutu (or as the country was called back when he was in power, Zaire), many people were killed by being dropped from helicopters into the country's many rivers and lakes.
  • During the ten-year Bougainville Conflict of 1989-1999, the military of Papua New Guinea disposed of tortured rebels (living or dead) by throwing them out of aircraft into the sea.
  • During the Indonesian occupation of East Timor, suspected guerillas and independence supporters were thrown out of helicopters to their deaths by Indonesian forces. Multiple deadly euphemisms were coined to describe the practice, such as "taking a bath in the sea".
  • One political meme that's gained traction in recent decades is "free helicopter rides", a Deadly Euphemism used by right-wing extremists and trolls acting like them to refer to giving this treatment to leftists and other political opponents, a direct reference to Pinochet above.
  • This is a tactic used by some birds of prey when their prey is difficult to kill by normal means. A well known method would be hawks dropping tortoises on rocks to break their shells, but there are also instances of eagles knocking goats off mountainsides since they are too large for the birds to kill with their talons.
    • According to legend, the Greek playwright Aeschylus was killed by an eagle (or vulture) when it dropped a tortoise on him, mistaking his bald head for a rock.