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'The Oatmeal' Remembers 'Star Trek' Creator's Heroic Plane Crash Rescue

Nov 16, 2015
Originally published on November 20, 2015 1:02 pm

Before the attacks on Paris on Friday, Matthew Inman was thinking a lot about the unpredictability of life.

A few days earlier he had posted his latest comic to his popular website, "The Oatmeal."

The cartoonist apologized to his fans because this comic strip is not like his usual work. It's not funny.

He says he didn't leave his house much over the five days it took him to draw and write the comic titled "It's going to be okay."

Since last week, it has been viewed 30 million times. Inman was inspired to write it after hearing a real-life story that took his breath away.

On June 18, 1947, a Pan Am flight crashed on its way to New York from Calcutta, killing 14 people instantly. The co-pilot survived and helped organize a heroic rescue mission that brought 22 survivors home.

That co-pilot was Gene Roddenberry, who went on to create Star Trek.

Use the audio link above to hear a shortened version of the comic.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Before the attacks on Paris on Friday, Matthew Inman was thinking a lot about the unpredictability of life. A few days earlier, he had posted his latest comic to his popular website, "The Oatmeal." The cartoonist apologized to his fans because this comic strip is not like his usual work. It's not funny. He was inspired to write and draw it after hearing a real-life story that took his breath away.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The comic strip is now been viewed 30 million times. On Friday, we asked him if he'd be up for reading a shortened version of it for the radio. We didn't air it because of the updates from Paris, but we think you should still hear it. Here's Matthew Inman.

MATTHEW INMAN: (Reading) On June 18th, 1947, on a Pan Am flight from Calcutta to New York, an engine stopped working, which cause another engine to overheat, which caused a fire, which caused a panic.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INMAN: (Reading) While the pilot attempted to land the plane, the 25-year-old co-pilot unbuckled himself. He went into the main cabin to help with the passengers. He sat next to a young woman who was alone. He told her it was going to be OK. He told her this as he watched the engine continue to burn. He told her this as he watched it fall from the wing. He told her this as fuel lines became exposed, fire overtook the aircraft, and the plane pitched downward. He told her this knowing that every single person on that plane was about to die.

The plane hit hard, crashing into the Syrian desert. Fourteen people died instantly. Two crew members survived, including the copilot. And with a pair of broken ribs, he went back into the burning plane, pulling survivors from the wreckage.

Morning arrived, but a rescue did not. The co-pilot took charge and formed two search parties. They eventually found the village, a village which had a radio. A call was made, and the 22 survivors were rescued. As for the copilot, the crash changed him. After that, he didn't want to be a pilot anymore. He wanted to do something different with his life. He resigned from Pan Am to pursue a career in writing and, ultimately, television. His name was Gene Roddenberry, and he created Star Trek.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INMAN: (Reading) This story is not intended as an ode to Roddenberry, although he certainly deserves one. Prior to working in television, he was a decorated World War II pilot, a plane-crash investigator and an L.A. cop. He survived three plane crashes. This story is intended to provide you that our journeys are short. Roddenberry saw life's ephemeral nature lit up against a backdrop of stars. He saw that we are all passengers pitching downward into the night. He saw that we're all helpless. So get up, and help someone.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SHAPIRO: That's Matthew Inman, the man behind "The Oatmeal," reading from his comic about Gene Roddenberry. To see the illustrations that go with Matthew's words, go to our Facebook page at NPR ATC. We've posted a link there. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.