Clint Eastwood recalled one of the terrifying experiences in his 89th birthday interview as he shared the events leading up to his flight to near-death.
It was the early 1950s, and the Hollywood veteran was a 21-year-old young military man returning back to his pavilion. What, according to him, was simply a free flight was actually a ride on a military bomber aircraft from the World War 2 era.
One moment he was happily returning from a tryst with his girlfriend, and the next, his plane came crashing down into the ocean. At the time, the Unforgiven director’s only hope to survive was the lights gleaming on the Californian coastline. Eastwood estimates he swam at least a few miles before making his way past the Abbotts Lagoon and towards a light, which turned out to be the KPH RCA receiving station.
Clint Eastwood Plane Crash Fact 1: Eastwood Served In The US Army
Clint Eastwood dedicated his younger years to the military service as the lifeguard and projectionist of training films of Fort Ord, California. He was admitted in 1951, in the backdrop of the Korean War.
To make up for the minimal monthly army remuneration of $67, Eastwood took up odd jobs, including loading docks for the Spreckels Sugar Refining Company and working as a bouncer at the NCO club at nights and weekends.
It was during his time in the army when he befriended the then fellow army men and future popular TV actors Richard Long, Martin Milner, and David Janssen.
Clint Eastwood Plane Crash Fact 2: His Plane Went Down In The Pacific Ocean Off The Coast Of California
Eastwood was on his way back from Seattle when he decided to use his uniform to his advantage and hop on the Douglas AD 1-Q. “In those days, you could wear your uniform and get a free flight,” he explained in an interview. Things quickly went downhill mid-air as the radios, oxygen, and finally, the fuel failed the team, and the plane went crashing down into the ocean near Point Reyes, California.
Eastwood used a life raft to swim all the way back to the shore. What the 90-year-old director most clearly remembers is, however, swimming through the stark terror he felt. Of course, besides the biting October’s cold. Fortunately for him, he didn’t know that the waters he swam through were teeming with sharks.
Clint Eastwood Plane Crash Fact 3: The Area His Plane Crashed In Is Shark-Infested
The aircraft that Eastwood boarded was headed to northern California — a coastline to waters that are notorious for being infested with Pacific White Sharks. They particularly start breeding along the northern and central Californian waters during fall and only proceed toward the White Shark Cafe region near Hawaii during December.
In Eastwood’s own words, had he known then that he was swimming amidst shark-infested Pacific waters, “he’d have just died.”
Clint Eastwood Plane Crash Fact 4: Eastwood Thought “Well, 21 Is Not As Long As A Person Wants To Live”
The problems started with the rear door of the plane not staying shut, and panic started settling in with the oxygen system becoming inoperable. “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,” Eastwood narrated.
He ditched the plane along with the pilot with no clue as to how they will make it to the shore. While the pilot, Lt. Francis Coleman Anderson, drifted further north, Eastwood fought an hours-long battle through the kelp beds. The Hollywood star also recalled struggling with the relentless waves; his own fear washing over him as he couldn’t help but think, “Well, 21 is not as long as a person wants to live.”
He somehow made it up a cliff to a radio relay tower in Bolinas, where he incoherently recounted the crash to the officials in a state of shock and exhaustion. He was later assigned a coast guard.
Clint Eastwood Plane Crash Fact 5: Over 50 Years Later, Eastwood Would Direct “Sully”
Clint Eastwood, now a legendary actor and director, had then not even officially started his career in cinema. Who knew 50 years down the line he would reminisce his dramatic plane crash experience through his movie Sully: Miracle on the Hudson?
Although the decision to make the movie was not completely inspired by his experience, he did gain crucial insights into how the pilot makes a decision in that split second. “I suppose having been in a similar situation as the pilot I would have chanced a water landing rather than go someplace where there’s no runway,” he said as he explained his character Sully’s much-criticized decision in the film.