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John Travolta Reveals He Almost Died When His Plane Had ‘Total Electrical Failure’

Photo Credit: Sony Pictures / Columbia Pictures / TriStar Pictures / Zayne / MovieStillsDB
Photo Credit: Sony Pictures / Columbia Pictures / TriStar Pictures / Zayne / MovieStillsDB

John Travolta is not only one of Hollywood’s favorite actors, starring in hit films like Saturday Night Fever (1977), Grease (1978), and Pulp Fiction (1994), but he also has a license to fly in the sky. However, his piloting experiences haven’t always been smooth sailing. With his starring in a new short film about a harrowing flying experience, he has shared his own near-death experience from the cockpit.

Travolta stars in a new short film

Releasing on December 1, 2023, on Disney+, Travolta stars in the short film, The Shepherd, which is based on the novella of the same name written by Frederick Forsyth in 1975. It centers on a young Royal Air Force pilot trying to fly home for Christmas Eve who suffers an electrical failure in mid-air and has to attempt to land his Vampire aircraft. Travolta, who also served as executive producer on the short film, plays a mysterious rescue pilot who guides the young RAF pilot to safety.

His eerie connection to the story

John Travolta and Kelly Preston smiling out of the window of an airplane.
John Travolta and his wife Kelly Preston sit in the cockpit of an Airbus A380 at Brisbane International Airport on November 15, 2005. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Wood / Getty Images)

One of the reasons Travolta took on the project was because he felt he had a pretty close connection to the story. “The kismet of the project is, I actually experienced a total electrical failure, not in a Vampire but a corporate jet, over Washington D.C., prior to my discovering the book,” he explained.

After reading the book, Travolta said that it really resonated with him because it was an experience he had personally been through himself. It happened back in 1992 when he was flying with his wife, Kelly Preston, and 7-month-old son, Jeff, from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to Rockland, Maine, for Thanksgiving.

“I had the equivalent of seven failures ― contagious failures,” Travolta explained, saying how his “transducer rectifier” wasn’t functioning. “I claimed an Emergency over the radio. And then everything went. I had one gyro. No flaps. No reverse thrust. When I fly, I find great objectivity up there. And I found I was calm. In flying school, they give you what they call a black cockpit. So I felt I’d been there before.”

Almost miraculously, he and his family survived the flight

John Travolta in a pilots uniform standing in front of a small aircraft.
John Travolta, who recently completed a pilot training course with airline Qantas, poses in front of his vintage Boeing 707 on August 13, 2002, in Le Bourget, France. (Photo Credit: Stephane Richard / Getty Images)

Travolta explained how during that experience, he truly understood “what it felt like to absolutely think you’re going to die.” However, “…as if by a miracle,” as Travolta described it, he was able to make an emergency landing at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

It is no wonder he felt connected to the story of The Shepherd. “I made a landing just like [the character Freddie] does in the film. So I’m reading this book saying, ‘I’ve lived this,'” he said. The story resonated even deeper with him because it is all about “life and death and how precious life is.”

Samantha Franco

Samantha Franco is a Freelance Content Writer who received her Bachelor of Arts degree in history from the University of Guelph, and her Master of Arts degree in history from the University of Western Ontario. Her research focused on Victorian, medical, and epidemiological history with a focus on childhood diseases. Stepping away from her academic career, Samantha previously worked as a Heritage Researcher and now writes content for multiple sites covering an array of historical topics.

In her spare time, Samantha enjoys reading, knitting, and hanging out with her dog, Chowder!