Kudos to Michael Bay for doing the right thing.

The Hollywood producer and director announced yesterday that he will delete footage of a 1994 B-52 crash from an upcoming film from his production company.

Images of the deadly accident at Fairchild AFB, Washington appear briefly in Project Almanac, a time-travel adventure scheduled for release on 30 January.  Originally, representatives from Paramount (which will distribute the picture) said the sequence was based on a 2009 incident in Tokyo.  But when Bay reviewed the final cut of the film, he discovered that first-time director Dean Israelite had used video of the Fairchild disaster, inserting a vehicle in the foreground to create a slightly different scene.

“I let film directors make their movies at Platinum Dunes [Bay’s production company] and give them tremendous responsibilities,” Bay said in a statement released to the Times. “Well, unfortunately a very bad choice was made to use a real crash instead of creating a VFX [visual effects] shot, without realizing the impact it could have on the families.

“I want to also extend my deepest apology to the families, and also to the U.S. Air Force,” Bay said.  

Relatives of two crew members who died in the crash expressed shock and outrage when footage of the incident appeared in the Project Almanac trailer, which was posted on-line.  Lt Col Mark McGeehan and Col Robert Wolff were among those killed when a B-52 piloted by Lt Col Arthur “Bud” Holland” stalled and slammed into the ground while preparing for an air show at Fairchild almost 21 years ago.

Members of Col Wolff’s family told Air Force Times they accepted the film maker’s apology.

Wolff’s daughter, Whitney Wolff Thompson, said in an email that she accepted Bay’s apology.

“Mr. Bay, thank you from the bottom of my heart for your apology and your quick response to this,” Thompson wrote. “I appreciate your willingness to admit that this was indeed a real plane crash, and that a mistake was made in choosing to use it.”

Sarah Wolff, Wolff’s daughter-in-law, also accepted Bay’s apology and said she is glad he has asked the shot be cut.
“That is all we were requesting,” Wolff said. “I appreciate his swift response and will hope that Paramount offers a similar apology.”

Wolff was Vice Commander of the 92nd Bomb Wing at Fairchild at the time of the crash.  He was assigned as an “observer” on the flight, which was a rehearsal for the final B-52 demonstration at the base.  The 92nd was converting to a KC-135 unit and all Buffs–except for the crash aircraft–had already departed Fairchild.  The flight was supposed to be Wolff’s “fini” flight, as he prepared for retirement.  Members of his family watched in horror as Holland banked the aircraft far in excess of allowable limits, causing the eight-engine bomber to stall and crash. 

The video clip threatened to re-open a dark chapter in USAF flight safety, since the Fairchild accident was entirely preventable.  As we noted back in 2007, Lt Col Holland had a long history of exceeding safety limits for the B-52, and courted disaster on many occasions.   When other crew members complained about Holland’s antics, Lt Col McGeehan, commander of the B-52 squadron at Fairchild, took another pilot and navigator off the air show flight, putting himself in the right seat and assigning his operations officer, Lt Col Ken Huston, as the radar-navigator.  Col Wolff rounded out the crew.  

A subsequent Air Force investigation revealed that McGeehan was the only command-level officer who questioned Holland’s safety violations and requested that he be sanctioned.  McGeehan’s request fell on deaf ears; Lt Col Holland, the Chief of Standardization and Evaluation for the 92nd, remained on the schedule, setting the stage for the disaster that followed.  By some estimates, Holland attempted a 90-degree turn around the base control tower, far beyond what the giant bomber could perform.    

Mr. Bay certainly made the correct call in removing that brief video snippet.  There was no need for family members and veterans of the 92nd to relive that terrible event–an event that could have avoided if wing leadership had followed Lt Col McGeehan’s counsel and kept Holland out of the cockpit.