‘On A Wing And A Prayer’ (2023) Ending, Explained: Does Doug White Land The Plane?

There is a certain thrill that airplane films provide us with, and this feeling has been epitomized in recent times by “Top Gun: Maverick.” Aviation in films has achieved unimaginable heights, to the point where even the lingo of aviation has become quite familiar to us viewers. We do not need to look up the meaning of the words “Mayday” or “altimeter” every time we hear them. While “On a Wing and a Prayer,” based on a true story, deals with a layman trying to land a private jet, the film is about more than just aviation. Here’s how.


Spoilers Ahead

‘On A Wing And A Prayer’ Plot Synopsis: What Happens In The Film?

In Monroe, Doug White stops believing in God after his younger and very humorous brother Jeffrey passes away from a sudden heart attack. In Connecticut, there is flight instructor, Kari Sorenson, who lost his parents in a plane accident. In the control tower at RSW Southwest Florida International airport, Fort Myers, is air traffic controller Dan Favio, who is struggling with his job and personal life. Somewhere else in Fort Myers is little aviation enthusiast Donna Brayley, who is engrossed in a flight simulator on her computer. While each of these people lives a completely different life and has no idea that the others even exist, they are about to cross paths in the most offbeat way.


Doug White, his wife Terri, and their daughters Maggie and Bailey get on a private jet and are headed to their other home in Louisiana. The jet takes off and climbs when Joe Cabuk, the pilot, suffers a stroke and passes away. Doug has close to no experience in aviation, having had only an introductory flight session with his brother Jeffrey. As the jet is about to reach Fort Myers, Miami Center transfers the call to Fort Myers Traffic Control, where it is up to Dan Favio to make sure that Doug’s family lands safely. Dan calls his friend Kari, who is highly experienced in flying a King Air aircraft, the jet that Doug and his family are in. Meanwhile, Donna tunes in to live air traffic and tracks the plane’s route on her computer from home, hoping for the best with bated breath. Will Doug be able to land the jet safely? Will Terri’s prayers work? “On a Wing and a Prayer” has the answers.

A True Incident

The events that unfold in “On a Wing and a Prayer” are real and occurred on Easter Sunday, i.e., April 12, 2009. After Jeffrey passed away, Doug had trouble believing in God and was angry for the way in which he lost not just Jeffrey but, before that, his father and his uncle. All three people died of heart attacks. Doug is angry at the way they were snatched from him, and that too, in a way, they didn’t deserve at all. This makes him abandon his faith, as we later see when he tells his wife to take care of praying while he tries to land the plane.


In other words, he would rather do what he knows is logical and plausible to save his family than pray. Dan and Kari work together and try every way in which they can help Doug land the jet safely. Kari and his girlfriend Ashley even built a makeshift cockpit so that he could better maneuver Doug step by step. What follows is dangerous coordination among the parties to land the airplane. It isn’t easy, as Doug fails to land the plane the first time and pulls it up again, only to head inside the thunderous clouds. Dan’s phone is dead, which means that Kari cannot be reached. This is when Doug remembers God and calls out to him.

The very next moment, the phone in lifeless Joe’s pocket starts to ring. Ashley has found the number of the registered pilot of the jet. Maggie, who is with her sister Bailey in the cabin, takes the phone out of Joe’s pocket and hands it to her father (Doug), who is finally able to listen to Kari’s instructions directly for the first time. God seems to have heard him. Then begins a joint effort by Kari and Doug to land the jet at Fort Myers. While we could say that God, or whatever superpower there is, heard Doug’s call, we cannot deny that it was brave people whose unwavering efforts were what saved Doug and his family. Some may say that it was divine intervention that Ashley found the captain’s phone number, without which Kari wouldn’t have been able to guide Doug. Others may say that it was Kari who told Ashley about the pilot’s registered contact being available online, so there was nothing divine there but the presence of her mind. Be that as it may, Doug’s prayer and Kari’s idea overlapped and eventually saved the White family.


A Dream That Got Bigger

Dana was tracking each and every move by the plane and listening to the instructions until Dan’s phone went dead. She then decides to head to RSW Southwest Florida International airport with her friend Buggy and wait to find out what happens. While Dana’s POV doesn’t concern the main plot, it does show how she, at that young an age, is smartly able to deduce what’s happening to the plane by looking at the plane’s movement on her screen, taking note of the weather, and listening to Air Traffic Control. It just shows her enthusiasm to become a pilot, and by the end of the film, we do believe that she will. This is our faith in Dana, just as Terri had faith in her husband and knew that he would protect his family. There is this feeling of joy to see Dana and how her latest experience only made her more determined to strive towards her dream rather than reconsidering it. Perhaps there is a Dana in all of us, waiting for a sign that reminds us that it is always worth it to dream.

‘On A Wing And A Prayer’ Ending Explained – Does Doug Land The Plane?

Throughout the events that occurred, Terri never lost faith, and before Doug began to land the plane the second time, she headed back inside the cabin and started praying with her daughters, telling them how much she loved them. Finally, in the ultimate act, Kari tells Doug to let go of the yoke and the rudder pedals and let the jet land on its own. Doug calls out to God to let him protect his family and lets go of the controls. The plane lands on the runway on its own, bringing a safe end to what felt like a never-ending, tedious torment. After the plane comes to a halt, Doug apologizes to God for his doubts and sees his brother sitting beside him in the cockpit. Whether we like it or not, we have to admit that faith helps us get through even the worst of times. And that’s all that’s needed in this life.

“On a Wing and a Prayer” is thus an aptly named film that shows how a person manages to “fly” by having faith (praying). It is a nice film, and keeping in mind that whatever transpired in it is based on what really happened, it becomes much more extraordinary as well as reinforces the importance of faith in life.

Shubhabrata Dutta
Shubhabrata Dutta
Shubhabrata’s greatest regret is the fact that he won’t be able to watch every movie and show ever made. And when he isn’t watching a movie or a show, he is busy thinking about them and how they are made; all while taking care of his hobbies. These include the usual suspects i.e. songs, long walks, books and PC games.

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