April 22, 1975, was a Tuesday.
As the day's flight landed outside his window, Al Topping (James Earl Jones, PATRIOT GAMES) listened intently to the BBC radio broadcast. With a stick pin he noted the position of the advancing, communist Vietnamese army. He knew it wouldn't be much longer. He knew it was his call -- but when?
Tra Duong (Rosalind Chao, DEEP SPACE NINE), a Vietnamese-American flight attendant, knew she didn't have much time. This trip into Vietnam would be her last, even though this country was her native land. Armed with her American passport, she felt only a little more confident as she left the airbase by taxi toward her family's residence. They must listen; they must come with me, she thought. Her Uncle Vo was an advisor to the democratic president. If Vo stayed he would be targeted by the new government for collaborating with the enemy. Her mother still had to make her wedding dress, and then her sisters... they must all leave.
Jim Eckes (Arliss Howard, FULL METAL JACKET) was an airplane mechanic. PanAm was a good paycheck, but it was another airline he maintained -- an underground airline (he notes, "Isn't that a mixed metaphor?") -- that paid his karmic bills. Teaming with Larry Rose (Eric Bogosian, TALK RADIO), Jim begins a search for several resistance fighters. Without rescue, these people would not survive the fall of the country.
Dan Hood (Richard Crenna, RAMBO I-II-III) was a pilot and a soldier who got things done. After a medivac chopper full of orphans is shot down by the Viet Cong, a doctor and friend, Timothy Brandon (Stephen Tobolowsky, GROUND HOG DAY), enlists Dan's help to rescue as many more children and natives as the two can creatively manage.
After hours of pleading, Tra has been unable to convince her mother and Uncle to leave, but accepts into her care her four sisters. Distraught, but conscious of the clock, Tra kisses her family one last time, gathers her sisters, and flees toward sanctuary. But just outside Saigon's city limits, Tra's taxi is stopped. Showing her American passport, Tra tries to press past the roadblock, but she is met with violence. At gunpoint, she is told to exit the car. Her passport is ripped from her and a sentry riddles it beyond recognition with bullets. The taxi driver speeds off. With no transportation, no passport, and four young sisters in tow, Tra makes her way on foot through increasingly hostile land toward the airport, hoping to make it there in time.
Jim and Larry succeed in locating their resistance fighters -- all except one -- the one Larry came for personally. As Jim continues to scour the city, Larry sets up shop to counterfeit exit visas for the 50 or more refugees -- as the Inspector (James Hong, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA) is quick to spot forgeries and is relentless in his pursuit of "unpatriotic" Vietnamese.
Back at the hospital, Dan and Dr. Brandon are frustrated when only children, no more adults, are allowed on the last medivac flights. Dan apologizes to the lovely native nurse, Mai Le (Elizabeth Lindsey), then seeks a way to save not only the children, but also their native caretakers, who, they discover, have been targeted for death for their involvement with the United States.
In a brief cameo, James Morrison plays a pivotal character. Although married and an employee of the embassy, Elliot enlists Dan's help to secretly airlift his young, Vietnamese lover out. "Listen, Quai, she's the sweetest person you could ever want to meet. She's kind; she's smart; she's loyal. She's a good person, Dan. They don't come any better in this world. If she doesn't get out, she'll be in danger." Dan asks, "Because of you?" To which Elliot responds, "Maybe, but she doesn't deserve it. Look, there's a lot of things you could accuse me of, and you'd be right. That's not what counts here. You do this for me, and I'll owe you one."
Dan suits up Quai in a false cast with false documents forged by Brandon, but on this trip Dan cannot fulfill his obligation. The military medivac flights have finally been terminated. Dan realizes the end is near; the only way out for anyone now is PanAm. But with no exit visas, how can he get more than a hundred people safely away? Dan remembers the favor owed him by Elliot, the embassy staffer.
Al puts his wife on the Wednesday flight, and sorrowfully decides the returning Thursday flight will be the last. Within hours, however, as the military starts to pull out, the US embassy decides to eliminate all civilian air transports. After the Wednesday flight is already safely in the air, they announce there will be no more returning flights!
The overseas phone lines have been cut! Now, more isolated than ever, Al sends a wire to his boss pleading for this one last flight. His staff, Jim's "friends," Dan's hospital employees and patients, and one missing flight attendant and her family all wait to escape. The word finally comes, President Gerald Ford has personally petitioned volunteers to fly this last mission. With a dedicated captain (Barry Corbin, NORTHERN EXPOSURE) in the pilot's seat, PanAm flight 700 launches with half-tanks from Manila toward the war-torn city to pick up more than 200 passengers anxious to taste freedom and to catch the last flight out.
With supporting cast: Kieu Chinh (JOY LUCK CLUB), Lee Garlington, Molly Hagan, Keone Young, Soon-Teck Oh (RED SUN RISING) and Academy Award winner Dr. Haing S. Ngor (THE KILLING FIELDS).