John Travolta has recalled the terrifying moment he thought he was going to die after the commercial jet he was piloting suffered a “total electrical failure”.
The 69-year-old Grease star recounted the scary memory last week at a screening of his forthcoming short thriller The Shepherd.
The movie stars Ben Radcliffe as a young fighter pilot who finds himself in peril when the plane he’s flying home for Christmas experiences multiple system failures. Then, a mysterious Samaritan (Travolta) comes to his rescue and guides him to safety.
The Shepherd is an adaptation of Frederick Forsyth’s 1975 novella, which Travolta said he discovered and read shortly after he had his own brush with death.
“The kismet of the project is, I actually experienced a total electrical failure, not in a Vampire [jet] but a corporate jet, over Washington DC, prior to my discovering the book,” the actor told journalists, according to the BBC.
“So when I read the book, it resonated more because of this experience I’d personally had,” he added. “I knew what it felt like to absolutely think you’re going to die. Because I had two good jet engines but I had no instruments, no electric, nothing.”
He continued: “And I thought it was over, just like this boy, portrayed so beautifully [by Radcliffe]. He captured that despair when you think you’re actually going to die.
“I had my family on board and I said, ‘This is it, I can’t believe I’m going to die in this plane’,” the Saturday Night Fever actor added. “And then, as if by a miracle, we descended to a lower altitude, I saw the Washington DC Monument and identified that Washington National Airport was right next to it and I made a landing just like [character Freddie] does in the film. So I’m reading this book saying, I’ve lived this.”
Travolta, who has been a licensed pilot since he was 22, remembered he had “just purchased a Vampire jet just like the one in the film” when he came across the novella.
“I instantly fell in love with this book,” he said. “And it was my dream to one day make it into a film. So a couple of years later I purchased the rights to this book, but because it was right after Pulp Fiction, I was doing one movie after another.
“So after 10 years, I let it go and decided I was never going to get to do it. Then this hero [director Iain Softley] came along who had also fallen in love with it, and brought me back into the group,” he said.
When Travolta initially purchased the rights, he had envisioned himself playing the young pilot. “I was young enough then that I could’ve played that part,” he joked. “But I had to wait 30 years to play the shepherd.”
The Shepherd will be released on Disney+ on 1 December.