OPERATION CRASH DIVE
I remember this episode
very fondly, as so much seemed to get packed into its fifty minutes
and there was very little drag. Almost immediately, excited drums
take us into a shot of the magnificent, Concorde-esque Fireflash
waiting on a runway. The episode title is instantly superimposed
over it. We may remember this magnificent craft from the show’s
pilot episode, ‘Trapped in the Sky’, and various characters will be
making many more references over the next hour to that landmark
We’re at London airport,
and the two Tower controllers are also the same as the ones from
‘Trapped…’, particularly the stiff-upper-lipped controller,
Commander Norman, who is one of the show’s most consistent guest
star characters. He’s watching the Fireflash through
binoculars, and – as is typical just before a major disaster on
Thunderbirds, marvelling at the impressiveness of the massive plane.
The Fireflash (more specifically, its ID is Fireflash 3)
takes off, levelling out, then pops the sounds barrier and Commander
Norman calls the International Air Minister to tell him that the
Fireflash 3 has left London safely. I have to wonder if he has
to ring the minister every time a Fireflash launches? Maybe
he just leaves messages…
Then, one second after
the ‘everything’s going well’ phone call, disaster strikes. In about
three seconds, the Fireflash pilots radio a frantic mayday –
they’re losing height rapidly and barely have time to give their
position before static swallows their call for help. The other tower
controller, Burroughs, calls in the Mayday and orders the start of a
search and rescue – a sign starts flashing ACTION STATIONS!
Commander Norman radios
an order for all ships in the vicinity of Fireflash 3’s
last-known coordinates to divert to and search that area, whilst
bright yellow Air Sea Rescue jets zoom into the sky out of clearly
labelled launch bays. This is called ‘Operation Sea Hawk’ and there
are many shots of these jets and a hydrofoil rescue ship patrolling
the Atlantic Ocean, looking desperately for the missing aircraft.
Eventually the search
party call London Tower with the sad news. There’s absolutely no
sign of Fireflash 3, and Commander Norman says, rather
inappropriately, “It’s fantastic!” and calls an end to the hopeless
operation. The planes and jets are shown heading home.
Now at London Tower,
someone’s pinned a sign to a door marked ‘PRIVATE: INTERNATIONAL AIR
MINISTER’. The meeting consists of four people – a bearded man at
the desk, who we assume to be the Minister himself, Commander Norman
and Burroughs from the tower, and a chap in a white coat who appears
to be one of the Fireflash engineers (and will be later known
as Patterson). The Air Minister is greatly upset by the Fireflash
3 disaster, which has cost them a plane worth “five million
pounds and six hundred lives!” I feel he could have listed that in a
better order. The minister gives orders for all Fireflash
craft to remain grounded until yet more tests are run to find the
fault, even though Patterson makes a belligerent protest that they
already have tested it exhaustively. Fireflash’s fate remains
This doesn’t prevent
enormous media speculation. On Tracy Island, we see a hand pluck The
Philadelphia Observer from a huge pile of newspapers and magazines.
The headline reads, ‘Jinxed Plane Grounded – Fireflash
Accident Prone?’ This scene is especially interesting because it’s a
glimpse at both the Tracy’s range of reading material (we can
perhaps assume the copy of MAD Magazine belongs to Gordon and the
others all steal it), as well as LIFE, New York Mercury, The Daily
Telegraph and, er, The Daily Mail. Because there was no frame pause
in the 1960s it seems unlikely they wanted us to spot that the dates
are all from that decade!
Then the camera makes a
quick pan past the Tracy brother’s (IR uniform) portraits to where
John, Tin-Tin and Jeff are watching the latest news report on
Fireflash. The reporter refers to ‘Trapped in the Sky’, which
suggests that that episode’s events occurred earlier in the same
year. The reporter reiterates that this time there were no
survivors. This is creepily similar to recent real life events.
Finally getting a line
while he’s on the island, John wonders if it could be sabotage
again, although Tin-Tin thinks security precautions are too good for
that to happen. Considering security and safety records in every
episode so far, I think John’s instincts are a bit closer to the
mark. Jeff is baffled why the Fireflash could suddenly
disappear, and John is now wondering if it could be metal fatigue.
Jeff gruffly says it “could be a hundred and one things” and that
they will need to keep a close eye on the new Fireflash
tests. Tin-Tin still thinks it’s a great aircraft and ensures that
the jinx continues!
Jeff contacts Alan,
who’s replaced John in Thunderbird Five (which is when
anything important needs to be found out up there, obviously,
otherwise it would give John more than three lines per episode).
Jeff tells Alan to closely monitor all Fireflash test
transmissions, and Alan points out that the crew of Fireflash 3
called in the wrong position right before they vanished! OK, Alan,
two questions…1) When did you realise this exactly? and 2) Didn’t
you think it was worth perhaps mentioning it to the
search-and-rescuers? Or even the air minister? Jeff totally ignores
this fact, too, so perhaps it’s his fault! Jeff then rings down to
Scott, Virgil and Gordon, who are spending some quality time
together in the billiard room. Maybe the pool was being cleaned. He
orders them to stand by while the Fireflash tests are going
on, although he doesn’t specify if this means they should, like,
stop playing, or anything.
Back in London,
Fireflash is in the test bay and Patterson tells Commander
Norman that they’ve eliminated metal fatigue as a possibility
(sorry, John) and are awaiting results from radiation tests. These
are also revealed as the good kind of negative. In Patterson’s
words, Fireflash is “totally OK,” so now they will have to
try something else. At London airport there’s another meeting with
another big sign outside, ‘BRIEFING IN PROGRESS KEEP OUT’!
Commander Norman speaks
to two pilots, one blond (apparently named Bob), the other darker
and sporting an impressive, WWI-style moustache. It looks like
they’re going to recreate the flight and see if they can spot the
trouble, and sure enough, after a few ground tests, the Fireflash
is flying once more.
Alan listens in as they
pass the sound barrier, and then grows very concerned when this crew
also read out the wrong position! The Fireflash is fifty
miles from the last crash area and then they switch to the Auto
Flight Plan. Then one of the pilots says, “So far so good”. Of
course, that’s when the Elevator Power Unit conks out, swiftly
followed by the radio. In London Tower they can hear the pilots
shouting there’s something wrong with their ‘gyros’, then they give
the wrong position again. Commander Norman despairs as he picks up
on a pattern of disaster.
As the Fireflash’s
ill-fated crew prepare to ditch in the ocean, a parachute
mysteriously launches from underneath. The two pilots are too busy
freaking out to notice. Their controls aren’t responding, and
they’re about to crash!
Alan calls Tracy Island.
He’s picked up this second Fireflash’s mayday, which was too
weak for London to hear. Again, I have to wonder where they were
while the other plane with six hundred people on it was coming down!
Jeff calls the shooting range, where Scott congratulates Gordon on a
few direct hits (and they have a really well-stocked gun rack!) Jeff
tells them to be on their way.
hits the water. There’s exciting, urgent music as the Fireflash
begins to sink, and the pilots find the emergency airlock has
jammed! The mysterious parachutist lands safely while the great
aircraft’s weight inevitably pulls it underwater begins to sink,
with the pilots still trapped inside! Then a strange craft arrives
to pick up the parachutist. So John was right, there’s something
truly eeeevil going on here!
In the Tracy lounge,
Jeff instructs Scott to scan the area from the coast nearest the
crash site, and sends Virgil with TB4 and Gordon. They’re in such a
hurry there’s no time for extended launch sequences, it’s simply
1-2-3 blast off!
After all the crashing
and blasting off, we’re shown a tranquil rural scene – and then
Thunderbird One rockets in overhead. A farmer is hefting hay
with a pitchfork when Thunderbird One lands noisily, spouting
fire and smoke. The man is gobsmacked, revealing his Irish roots
with a “Saints preserve us!” exclamation. He’s also one of the
Anderson’s non-threatening stereotypes, as he has a rosy red nose. A
very serious-faced Scott asks for help with his equipment (no, it
never stops being funny) over the loudhailer in TB1. He wants to set
up Mobile Control in the barn, and the farmer says of course he can,
but the cows are in there! A now-grinning Scott replies cheerfully,
“Well they’ll just have to move over!” Yes, this is why I hold this
episode in particular affection.
is still on her way, and Brains wants London to send a ‘radio
photograph’ of Fireflash’s electronics over to him. This
either shows how highly esteemed and well-trusted IR have become
(which is picked up on in a much later episode), or Fireflash’s
staff really don’t have any idea what ‘Top Secret’ actually means…
Back in Ireland, Scott
makes friends with ‘Kathy’, the farmer’s noisy cow whose barn he’s
commandeered. Mobile Control is set up to scan the area for
Fireflash, using a nifty yellow piece of equipment that erects
itself in the yard. Scott seems to keep one eye on the cow, with a
bit of a ‘how do I get myself into these situations?’ expression
In Thunderbird Two’s
cockpit, Brains is poring over Fireflash plans with some help
from Gordon. Brains repeatedly explains, “I got it!” and then “Er,
no…I, I haven’t…” which is very clearly irritating Virgil – there’s
something about the sidelong stare he keeps giving Brains which
always gave me that impression.
Back in the barn,
Scott’s sounding frustrated. Apparently there’s “not a thing
floating in the whole area!” So where is the other Fireflash?
exclaims, “I got it!” for what’s thankfully the last time.
Unfortunately, the following discussion they have about the fate of
the crew blatantly emphasises the similarity between Brains’ voice
and Gordon’s. They really needed to hire one more person for poor
Gordo! Anyway, Brains figures that the skill of the crew could mean
that Fireflash has landed safely but then sunk underwater,
and the crew may also be unable to get out!
This is exactly what has
happened. The two pilots are despairing that they can’t be heard,
“even with the new thorium beam transmitter”. Typical. They’re now
convinced that they’ve “had it.”
Just then Thunderbird
Two zooms overhead. Scott updates them on the lack of luck with
the scan, and Virgil replies to Scott’s clipped sentence with one of
his own. “We think crew may be trapped in aircraft on sea bed.” He’s
either being even more precise than usual, or taking the piss
slightly. Hard to tell. So, Virgil drops off Gordon in Pod 4, and
Thunderbird Four launches!
Scott provides Gordon
with a course to follow, considering where Fireflash is
supposed to be. Thunderbird Four’s descent gives me Stingray
flashbacks, especially with the watery music accompanying it! Scott
instructs Gordon to begin the search once he reaches the area, which
is a cue for some ominous, almost (IR’s evil nemesis) The Hood style
music, too. The Fireflash crew spot him and frantically turn
all their lights on and off to get his attention. Gordon catches a
glimpse and steers towards it, although Fireflash’s lights
promptly fuse. It’s OK, though. Gordon has seen the Fireflash,
but can’t spot any signs of life.
Virgil urgently asks
Brains if he thinks the crew are still alive, but Brains fobs him
off, telling Gordon he will need to cut off the Fireflash’s
engines. Then the plane will (probably) float and they’ll be able to
rescue the crew. Virgil adds darkly, “If they’re still alive.”
Yikes. Gordon ‘parks’ Thunderbird Four on a rock and swims
out to take a look.
The crew are losing hope
again until one of them spots Gordon swimming towards them. Gordon
is relieved to see them, too, and reports that he will send them a
message on a nifty gadget called the ‘Light Type’. It’s basically a
waterproof netbook. Gordon uses it to explain Brains’ plan to the
crew, then swims back to Thunderbird Four and puts on a
snazzy pair of green goggles.
He’s going to need them.
Thunderbird Four’s ‘nose’ contains a handy cutting torch that
Gordon gets to work with. It doesn’t take long before one engine
comes off – and you can clearly see the ‘pre-break’ lines on the
model, but that’s just nit-picking. The crew wait and the tension
mounts as they’re clearly running out of air and the cockpit
temperature is climbing fast! The second engine finally breaks away
too, and Gordon steers Thunderbird Four away, putting it back
down to wait.
Hopeful, lighter and
bubblier music plays as Fireflash finally lifts up and up,
surfacing at last! Thunderbird Two flies directly above and
TB4 emerges alongside! Then the heavily-moustached Fireflash
pilot smells burning and there’s a crackle of very unhappy
electrical wires. Smoke starts to billow from the control panel!
Gordon appears in the
cockpit window and starts cutting a gap in the glass. A close up
reveals that he can see the flames, too. The pilots realise they
can’t even use the extinguisher as air is so short! The fire starts
begins to drop the ‘Rescue Capsule’ from her nose cone. By now,
Gordon has carved a wobbly escape hole for them to get out through.
He bashes the glass out and shouts for the pilots to climb aboard
the Rescue Capsule as soon as it arrive, then he dives back into the
sea and Thunderbird Four.
There’s a long view of
TB2 coming in with the capsule, then suddenly it’s outside the
cockpit and the two men leap into it! Virgil’s voice tells them to
“sing out” when they’re secure, and he tells them to hold tight
while TB2 winches them up. Virgil lets everyone know that he’s
getting out of there as soon as they’re safe, as the Fireflash
seems ready to go up at any second! TB2 pulls away and
Thunderbird Four JUST gets clear as the second ill-fated
Fireflash explodes over and over again, sinking for good this
Back in the Tracy lounge
the reporter on the TV sings IR’s praises and informs viewers that
one of International Rescue’s “egg-heads” has sent London an
analysis about why Fireflash 3 may have crashed. Jeff,
Brains, John, Virgil and Gordon are all watching, Virgil sporting a
particularly flamboyant cravat! Jeff adds his thanks to them all for
a job well done, but realises that Scott isn’t there (how long have
they all been there?!). Virgil says that Scott’s take-off from
England (surely he meant Ireland?) was delayed for “some reason”. On
this cue, Scott appears around the rotating wall, carrying a laden
basket of dairy products. He tells them he “had to milk the cows
before I took off!” There’s always a lot of untold stories in the
really good Thunderbirds episodes, and this random scene is one more
reason why I love this one in particular!
As the Tracys debrief,
there’s a top level Fireflash meeting going on where they
argue passionately over Brains’ findings. EPU (Elevator Power Unit)
failure seems unlikely to most of them, and they have no idea how
it’s happening. The Air Minister tells them that they will pursue
all three theories suggested because “I can’t see what else we can
Jeff echoes this. He is
also holding a meeting in the Tracy Lounge. Scott, Virgil, Tin-Tin
and Brains are all there, and there’s concern that the cause of the
disaster can only be examined whilst Fireflash is airborne.
Virgil wishes that the company would let them have a try at flying
Fireflash, with Thunderbird Two as backup “if need
be.” Scott instantly agrees, looking extra-serious as he says, “How
about that, Father?”
Jeff is also a fan of
the idea and immediately puts together a letter to London Field,
saying it’s time for IR to act! Yay! Prevention better than cure!
Something logical is happening!
introduces London Tower, who have just received Jeff’s letter.
Commander Norman agrees that IR probably has “the best pilots in the
business” but wants Captain Hanson to join the IR man (Scott, of
course) in the cockpit for the test. This is mainly because IR saved
Hanson’s life back in ‘Trapped in the Sky!’ Apparently remembering
Scott’s stringent security demands from that episode, Norman also
orders top secret conditions for the airport, a 100 mile no-fly zone
around this area, and 600 yards clearance for all the Thunderbird
craft. Out of ALL the episodes in the series, this really is the
best one for consistent continuity.
Burroughs, is curious where the letter was posted, hoping it will
give them a steer to IR’s base. Fortunately, IR aren’t morons and
Norman wryly shows him it was posted at London Airport! Anyway, it’s
clear that IR are a shoo-in for this latest test.
Alan calls Jeff from
Thunderbird Five to tell him that preparations for
Thunderbird Two’s arrival at London are well underway. Alan
wonders what form the rescue will take, and Jeff says that Virgil is
loaded with POD 4, diving escape bells and the laser beam cutter.
Phew, these boys are prepared! Jeff wants Alan to stay in close
touch with London control tower in case they want any help with
crosses the British coast with Scott, Virgil and Gordon aboard and
the latest Fireflash lines up on the runway in preparation.
Stately music plays and apparently Captain Hanson is controlling the
International Rescue are
now six minutes away and the alert goes out to seal the airport. The
airport police drive out, presumably to take charge, while tunnels
last seen feeding the Thompson Tower (in ‘City of Fire’) are
barricaded and shut down. The security arrangements are in full
With three minutes to
go, Burroughs is concerned that IR will be late. Commander Norman
has more faith, which is rewarded when Scott’s voice bursts over the
airwaves. He’s answered by a chap using Scott’s poshest British
voice! Scott requests permission to land. As if for old time’s sake,
Commander Norman asks if they require a runway. In a nice nod to
‘Trapped in the Sky’, Scott answers the same way, “No, London, will
not require runway.” Heh.
The airport is
thoroughly sealed (and it must be, because not even the Hood has
appeared so far!) As they reach London, Scott sounds a little tense,
breathless with his clipped voice stringing out words, “Thank-yooou,
London, Okaaay, Virgil…” and Virgil calmly tells him that they’re
losing height now, landing at London bang-on midday. Burroughs is
hugely impressed by their perfect timing.
Alan tells Jeff they’ve
arrived. Jeff says he’s to maintain constant contact between
Fireflash, Thunderbird Two and Thunderbird Five.
He emphasises, “Nothing’s got to go wrong this time. NOTHING.” After
all, Scott’s life is at stake (not to mention IR’s flawless
Scott has joined Captain
Hanson in Fireflash, and checks in with Virgil on their
frequency. Gordon is sat behind Virgil in TB2, wearing a flight suit
instead of his uniform. Virgil can hear Scott “Strength 5” (love
that jargon), and so can Alan. Alan wishes them luck and tells
London that IR is ready.
Just before they leave,
Scott thanks Hanson for helping them to test Fireflash this
way, and Hanson just says that he’s grateful to Scott for saving his
life, back in ‘Trapped’. Then the operation begins, Virg says “So
long” to Scott, and Scott and Hanson calmly fly the gigantic
aircraft into the sky.
Scott notes they’ve
passed the sound barrier. Alan reports to Jeff that Virgil’s
catching up and things are okay. However, when Alan asks Scott for a
position check a moment later, it’s soon obvious they have a
problem. The locator reading is twenty miles out! Scott sounds
worried but thoughtful when he says, “Yeah, those controls are sure
way off beam…” Hanson passes this worrying news to London Tower.
Scott looks even more
serious as Hanson reports that the EPU has failed, just as the radio
goes dead and Fireflash’s nose starts pointing at the ocean!
Scott and Hanson appear to have lost contact but naturally Scott has
a backup plan. He can still get through to Alan on IR’s own radio.
Communication is now more convoluted and “desperate”, as Virgil puts
it, but didn’t I say earlier that they were prepared?
Scott then drops the
rest of the bad news. Fireflash is taking a colossal crash
dive into the Atlantic Ocean, as they can’t get the nose up! He’s
still cool, and refuses to bail out as it will put them back where
they started. Fortunately, he and the others “cooked up” a scheme
for this on their way over. It appears to involve Gordon. Hanson
tells them they have fifteen minutes in which to pull it off. Well,
the guys like a challenge!
Gordon heads into the
back of Thunderbird Two with a “Be seeing you…I hope” to
Virgil. Virgil lines up Thunderbird Two with Fireflash’s
wing while Gordon gets into a hatch that opens up in TB2’s roof.
Virgil tells Scott to hold Fireflash steady, and they hope
for not too much turbulence. When Scott and Gordon are ready, TB2
pulls closer and looks incredibly small underneath Fireflash’s
length. Gordon tells Scott to open the hatch into Fireflash.
He looks up to fire a wire into it, and sees a person pull away from
the edge from INSIDE. Gordon isn’t certain what he saw and mutters
about it, just replying that he’s “seeing things” to Virgil’s query.
This doesn’t alarm Virg at all and he tells Gordon to stand by!
Gordon shoots the cable
into the hatch and it takes him up into Fireflash. He’s
safely in! Scott guides him to the problem area, warning that their
height is just 40,000 feet and there’s only four minutes before they
hit the water! Again, what have they been doing for the past eleven?
Gordon has at least managed to get safely inside Fireflash
and I can’t help thinking this technique would have been perfect for
removing the Hood’s bomb in ‘Trapped’.
Now there’s only three
minutes left, but Gordon soon finds proof of foul play. Someone has
cut the wires in the all-important Elevator Power Unit! Clearly that
bit of Fireflash blew up in the last one they rescued. Then
there’s a loud bang, a gunshot! Scott clips, “What the blazes was
It’s our saboteur, the
same man who escaped in the parachute just before crashes one and
two. He killed over six hundred people so there’s no sympathy for
him at all! He yells for Gordon to come on out, but Gordon warns him
that there are delicate instruments in here they really don’t want
to damage. Mr Saboteur doesn’t care as the plane is doomed to crash
and disappear, “just like all the others.”
one-and-a-half minutes left. An angry and anxious Scott demands to
know what the heck is going on in that wing. The answer is – a
shootout! Gordon almost subdues the guy but the baddie makes a break
for it. Although Gordon warns him his ’chute won’t open in time, the
man jumps, only for Gordon to shoot him anyway. Presumably just in
case it did open?
Scott’s having kittens
in the cockpit until Gordon finally speaks to him, saying they had
an “uninvited guest lousing up the works”. Gordon sounds high on
adrenaline at this point, and Scott suddenly speaks very quietly and
calmly, letting the aquanaut know that there’s just thirty seconds
before Fireflash hits the water, and it’s too late for Gordon
(or them, I think) to bail out. Can Gordon fix it?
Gordon says there’s no
time to remake the join (I think he means with a soldering iron)!
Fireflash is skimming low towards the water’s surface, the
engines make that whining crashing noise, and it all looks hopeless!
In what must be a last
ditch attempt, Gordon grabs the EPU’s wires and shoves the exposed
ends together. At the VERY LAST MINUTE Fireflash’s trajectory
curves upwards! They’re saved! Gordon’s blinking at the sparks his
efforts cause, (bet he has little flashy lights in his vision for
WEEKS) but it seems to be working!
Later, on Tracy Island,
a news reporter, who ALREADY looks like Virgil’s less-chiselled
twin, speaks in Virgil’s voice whilst a frankly CONFUSED looking
Virgil watches! John’s sat beside Virg on the sofa, and they’re all
listening to a report on the Fireflash. There’s excellent
news. The London to San Francisco route will soon be back to normal
and police authorities in London have completed investigations into
the sabotage. It turns out that, thanks for IR, they have uncovered
the involvement of the notorious ‘Benton Aircraft Espionage’! The
way that name gets thrown in, you’d think they found them in the
Yellow Pages. The reporter is just warming up when the screen
they’re all watching goes dark!
Jeff scans the room for
an explanation (anyone sit on the remote?) and a pissed-off Scott
(possibly the most pissed-off he ever looks in the show’s whole run)
says, “Ah, for Pete’s sake…”
Grandma Tracy hurries
in, apologising that as she and Tin-Tin were putting the apple pies
(what else!) in the oven the “darn fuse blew”. I can’t help hoping
that the aircon and launch sequences aren’t on the same circuit.
Particularly in Virgil’s case!
This is a cue for some
prime brother-on-brother teasing. Virgil snarks, “Oh, I’m sure
GORDON will soon fix that…” and Scott adds smugly, “Yeah, you
remember what you said after the Fireflash episode, Gordon…”
Gordon rolls his eyes. “Just like fixing a fuse, you said.” Wow,
they’re merciless! I’m guessing Gordon crowed a bit too loudly about
being the hero on this one! Our favourite aquanaut takes it in his
stride, gamely saying, “Here I go again!” Then we all wince at the
forced family laughter that closes what is, all the way through, a
truly great episode.
This is one of the
strongest episodes, where the show was hitting its stride and really
growing into its hour-long (including adverts) format. There’s
humour, great levels of action and well-drawn characters, and also a
great amount of series continuity, something that never quite gelled
in other episodes. Best of all, International Rescue prove yet again
that they will willingly put themselves in harm’s way if it means
preventing another potential disaster (and this prevention factor
will recur in the likes of ‘Danger at Ocean Deep’). Scott
co-piloting Fireflash was a wonderful image and I feel that
it brings IR’s involvement with that ill-starred aeroplane full
circle. In Tin-Tin’s words, the Fireflash still is a great
aircraft, and this episode comes just as highly recommended!