This Documentary Crew Set Out To Film A Plane Stunt, But Filmed A Fatal Crash Instead

Over 50 years ago, a stunt pilot and a filmmaker both plummeted to the ground in the course of filming a small airplane for an upcoming project. The accident was caught on camera, and the harrowing footage was used in the production of a documentary aptly-titledAccident. It was directed by the very filmmaker who crashed, and later released by the National Film Board of Canada in 1973.

Aeon dusted off the reels and featured the brief documentary recently. It’s worth watching, especially for those of us who’ve become immune to the fear of flying. Because in the midst of blind anger and exasperation aimed at our fellow frequent fliers, it’s easy to forget flying can end in life-altering tragedy like this:


Aeon sums up the documentary, adding a bit of context the film lacks. The film is less concerned with the causes and effects of the crash, and more concerned with its aftereffects and the impression it left on filmmaker Pat Crawley. Per Aeon:

In 1971, the Canadian filmmakers Martin Duckworth and Pat Crawley set out to shoot a scene centred around a small airplane in flight, piloted by the Canadian stunt pilot Ross Harold Wanamaker. The proceedings turned tragic, however, when the plane, carrying Wanamaker and Crawley, spiralled out of control and crashed, leaving Wanamaker dead and Crawley seriously injured. The resulting short documentary Accident (1973) captures the crash as filmed by Duckworth, who was on the ground with a camera, as well as Crawley’s experience in the months that followed. Recovering after the crash, Crawley finds himself in what he describes as a perpetually ‘stoned’ state – with philosophical thoughts buzzing in his head, and a newfound acceptance of the inevitability of death.

So often, the inevitability of death seems too abstract to really matter. Sure, death is inevitable, but it’s also distant and immaterial to most of us. That is, until we’re in a small plane that’s stalled and is pirouetting down to Earth.

Flying is inherently a risky thing, but we’re often told we’re more likely to die in an accident on the way to the airport. What well-meaning pessimists are getting at when they say this is that while flying seems scary, something mundane like driving our cars presents a greater risk. That’s mostly true, but not always.

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