Fact v fiction: How realistic actually is Hijack, the Idris Elba Apple TV thriller?

I am HOOKED


Right now, a lot of us are completely and utterly obsessed with Hijack on Apple TV. The Idris Elba thriller follows a plane which has been hijacked mid flight, on its way to London.

Idris Elba’s character Sam Nelson steps in to try and negotiate with the group of hijackers, who are working on behalf of a group, apparently feeling wronged over the previous arrest of two men. They tell the government unless the men are freed, all passengers on the aircraft will be killed.

But, how realistic is the show? Is it based on a true story and could something like this actually happen? Hijack on Apple TV has sure left us all with some pretty burning questions, so here’s a breakdown of them all, with some answers to help us sleep at night.

Is Hijack on Apple TV based on a true story?

Obviously there have been huge plane hijacking stories in the news before, but one big question is if Hijack on Apple TV is based on any particular true story. It’s not, and Idris Elba said during an interview with Entertainment Weekly the show is instead a “fresh approach” to traditional hostage stories.

Can you really fire a gun on a plane?

Hijack on Apple TV

via Apple TV

Straight up we’re informed this is a legit hijack threat, and we see the hijackers armed with guns. It’s questioned if they’re real or not, but then a passenger is shot – very much confirming they’re real weapons. But, the question has been raised that in that sort of cabin pressure, would a gun even work? What happens if you shoot a gun on a plane?

There are a few things that could happen if you shoot a gun on a plane. According to Quora, these are: The bullet strikes a person and gets embedded in them, the bullet hits the main body of the plane and air pressure will drop, but the plane’s system will attempt to compensate, or if it hits a window and breaks it, air pressure could drop considerably, and flight crew would declare a decompression emergency and descend the plane.

Despite this, it’s highly unlikely anyone would be able to get a gun on a plane in the first place these days, let alone multiple of them.

An aviation security consultant thinks it’s ‘highly unlikely’ a captain would unlock the cockpit like they did in Hijack

Despite this, it’s highly unlikely anyone would be able to get a gun on a plane in the first place these days, let alone multiple of them.

An aviation security consultant thinks it’s ‘highly unlikely’ a captain would unlock the cockpit like they did in Hijack

David Henson, an aviation security consultant and former SO18 officer at Heathrow told The Telegraph: “I can’t imagine a pilot – even it was his girlfriend – would let them in. There are some scenarios in which he might do, but a threat to kill would not be one of them. You just wouldn’t allow them in. It’s your only protection.”

Do planes zig-zag on their routes to raise an alarm?

via Apple TV

A very interesting part of Hijack was when the pilot was briefly allowed back into the cockpit, and he steered the plane slightly off route by a small angle, as a way to signal to control that something was going on.

Speaking to The Telegraph, aviation security and hijacking management expert Philip Baum, didn’t deny this could happen, but also didn’t confirm it. “There are a range of small things that pilots are taught they could do if they are unable to communicate verbally, and things they could do with the aircraft,” he said. “But I don’t think one should go into it. Training is provided, there are protocols to be followed, ways of communicating with the ground.”

Apple TV set up a real plane replica to make Hijack as realistic as possible

In an interview for Apple TV, Hijack director and executive producer Jim Field Smith said the show was made as realisitically close to a hijack situation as possible. A real plane was brought in to film the show on, and the shell of a real cockpit was connected to a flight simulator.

All of the computer displays were made as real as possible, and a “cutting edge screen” was used create lights which move past the windows on the plane, at the exact speed and angle as the Sun really would have on that flight path. “We’ve paid attention to every last detail,” Jim said.

Sam breaks the ‘golden rule’ of negotiations

According to Scott Walker, a real-life kidnap negotiator, Sam Nelson breaks the “golden rule” of being a professional negotiator during Hijack. Never negotiate for yourself,” he told The Telegraph. “Leave it to the professionals outside!”

Has a passenger ever stepped in during a plane hijack?

Like Sam does on Hijack, there have been multiple examples of passengers stepping in during emergency situations on planes. In 2021, a male passenger grabbed the flight controls of a Ryan Air Services Cessna 208 Caravan. The man briefly placed the aircraft in a nosedive at low altitude before being pushed away by the pilot and restrained by other passengers.

In 2011, Turkish Airlines Flight 1754, flying from Oslo to Istanbul, was in Bulgarian airspace when an unsuccessful attempt was made to hijack it. The hijacker allegedly stated he had a bomb, but the attempt was unsuccessful as passengers overpowered the man and the flight was able to land safely. Also in 2011, an attempt was made to hijack Alitalia Flight 329. The hijacker was subdued by cabin crew and some passengers before he was arrested and taken into custody.

On a Qantas flight in 2003, David Mark Robinson attempted to hijack the plane using two wooden stakes. He was overpowered by the cabin manager and four passengers. As well as these examples, onboard United 93, the fourth plane in the 9/11 attacks, the passengers fought back and prevented the terrorists from hitting the intended target.

Can someone actually breathe through a pen?!

via Apple TV

Another stand out moment in the series came when Lewis, one of the hijackers, was stabbed with scissors by one of the passengers, and was bleeding out dramatically. In a desperate attempt to save his life, a doctor onboard stabbed a pen through his chest, to help him breath.

Surprisingly, this isn’t the first time a TV show or film has used a pen being stabbed through the chest to show a makeshift tracheotomy, allowing someone to breathe. According to reports however, this method is “rarely effective”.

Are there really games on a plane where you can talk to other passengers?

Hijack on Apple TV

via Apple TV

On a less serious note, in some scenes we see Sam talking with the pilot, who has been placed in a passenger seat, through a game on the in-flight entertainment system. In short: If there is WiFi on a plane, the capability to speak to other passengers in this way would definitely be possible.

Hijack is available on Apple TV now. For all the latest reality TV and entertainment news and gossip, like Pop Culture Shrine on Facebook.

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