Clint Eastwood is known for playing heroic action figures in films, but in real life, Clint had his own near-death experience. He has discussed how he nearly passed away and how that experience motivated him to make a well-known movie. The incident took place before he started acting and became know for his brave and cool demeanor.
Any filmmaker would find it difficult to recreate the spectacular ditching of US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River in New York. But Clint Eastwood, who directed Sully: Miracle on the Hudson, had the advantage. After all, he’d once survived a crash.
He recalled the time he hitched a ride on a bomber plane while performing his military service in the early 1950s. “What was going through my mind was just a stark fear, a stark terror, because [in the] first place, I didn’t know anything about aviation at that particular time — I was just hopping a ride,” he said.
From Sand Point Naval Air Station, which is close to Seattle, the plane had taken off towards northern California. The oxygen system proved to be dysfunctional, the intercom and back door would not remain closed, and the navigation systems all failed throughout the journey.
“In those days, you could wear your uniform and get a free flight,” he continued. “On the way back, they had one plane, a Douglas AD, sort of a torpedo bomber of the World War II vintage, and I thought I’d hitch on that. Everything went wrong. Radios went out. Oxygen ran out. And finally we ran out of fuel up around Point Reyes, California, and went in the ocean. So we went swimming. It was late October, November. Very cold water. [I] found out many years later that it was a white shark breeding ground, but I’m glad I didn’t know that at the time or I’d have just died.”
Eastwood struggled to get onto the beach, but once there, he made his way beyond Abbotts Lagoon and through a tall fence to a brilliant light that was closer to him than the Point Reyes Lighthouse.
This turned out to be the KPH RCA receiving station. The single operator at the station initially had trouble understanding Eastwood’s explanation of the plane crash, but ultimately called the Coast Guard. He was taken to a “Coast Guard Station” and reunited with the pilot, who had drifted further north.
The next day, Eastwood was taken to the San Francisco Presidio and told that he would likely have to testify to an inquiry, which in the event was not the case.
After that experience, it makes sense that he wanted to tell the tale of Sully. The movie shares the true story of when pilot Chelsey Sullenberger (Sully) landed flight 1549 into the Hudson River.
Sully is a 2016 American biographical drama film directed by Clint Eastwood and written by Todd Komarnicki, based on the autobiography, Highest Duty by Chesley Sullenberger and Jeffrey Zaslow.
According to Her Moments, Clint said, “Anybody who keeps their wits about them when things are going wrong, who can negotiate problems without panicking, is someone of superior character and interesting to watch on film.”
Eastwood spoke to students at the Loyola Marymount University School of Film & TV, where he took part in the ongoing Hollywood Masters interview series. Other guests this season have included Sean Penn, Kenneth Branagh, Gale Anne Hurd and Ethan Hawke.
He also discussed his more recent military foray, the Oscar-nominated American Sniper, which became the highest-grossing release of 2014 the day he was interviewed.
Asked if the picture glorified war, he replied: “I think it’s nice for veterans, because it shows what they go through, and that life — and the wives and families of veterans. It has a great indication of the stresses they are under. And I think that all adds up to kind of an anti-war [message].”
Is Eastwood himself anti-war? “Yes,” he said. “I’ve done war movies because they’re always loaded with drama and conflict. But as far as actual participation … it’s one of those things that should be done with a lot of thought, if it needs to be done. Self-protection is a very important thing for nations, but I just don’t like to see it.”
He added: “I was not a big fan of going to war in Iraq or Afghanistan, for several reasons, several practical reasons. One, [in] Afghanistan, the British had never been successful there; the Russians had 10 years there and hadn’t been successful… Iraq, I know, was a different deal, because there was a lot of intelligence that told us that bad things could happen there, and we’re never sure how that ended up, whether it was pro or con. [But] I tend to err on the side of less is best.”
The actor-director-producer said he was planning to take a few months off before he returns to filmmaking. “I did two pictures back-to-back, Jersey Boys and then this, American Sniper. I was editing one while preparing another, and I just thought, at the end, the worst thing that could happen now is somebody gives me a really great script! So I wanted five, six months off to just improve the golf game.”