Old School Americana & Nostalgia


John Travolta Reflects on Near-Death Experience While Piloting Plane

John Travolta Reflects on Near-Death Experience While Piloting Plane

John Travolta revealed that his own near-death experience while flying a plane on Thanksgiving intrigued him about an upcoming role. According to Variety, during a Q&A session at the London premiere of the new short film “The Shepherd,” the 69-year-old actor, who is also a licensed pilot, shared this incident.

Travolta mentioned his intense experience as the reason “The Shepard” hooked him. The story revolves around a pilot who is flying back home for Christmas when his de Havilland Vampire jet encounters electrical failure. However, he is miraculously guided to safety by another enigmatic pilot.

“I actually experienced a total electrical failure, not in a Vampire but in a corporate jet over Washington D.C.,” Travolta recalled. “So when I read (Frederick Forsyth’s) book, it resonated even more because of this experience I personally had.” The Pulp Fiction star continued, “I knew what it felt like to absolutely think you’re going to die.”

John Travolta Used His Piloting Experience During His Near-Death Moment

According to The Washington Post, on November 24, 1992, experienced pilot John Travolta was in control of a Gulfstream II turbojet. The aircraft was flying from Fort Lauderdale, Florida to Rockland, Maine, carrying six passengers, including Travolta’s late wife, Kelly Preston, and their infant son, Jett. During the flight, the plane suffered a complete electrical system failure, leaving John Travolta with only a flashlight and compass for navigation.

Air traffic controllers made an effort to redirect a commercial flight toward Travolta’s aircraft. They intended to guide him to safety using the larger plane’s lights. Unfortunately, a close call ensued as the two aircraft converged on the radar, narrowly avoiding a collision. Nevertheless, the planes eventually passed by each other without incident.

Travolta, a licensed pilot since 1978, skillfully landed the plane at Arlington’s National Airport using the jet’s emergency brake. Despite the blown-out tires, none of the passengers were injured.

“I had two good jet engines but I had no instruments, no electric, nothing. And I thought it was over,” Travolta explained at the Q&A. “And then as if by a miracle, we descended as per the rules to a lower altitude. I saw that Washington D.C. monument and identified that Washington National Airport was right next to it and I made a landing just like [Freddie] does in the film.”

Travolta Continued Flying After the Incident

Following his near-death encounter, Travolta persisted in his passion for flying. The Face/Off actor went on to acquire a de Havilland Vampire, the very same aircraft piloted by the character Freddie Hooke in Forsyth’s novella. John Travolta’s acquisition of the plane came shortly after his discovery.

“So I’m reading this book saying, ‘I’ve lived with this,’” Travolta explained. “And of course, I was young enough then that I could have played this part [of Freddie]. But I had to wait 30 years to play the Shepherd.”