Was Breaking Bad's Airplane Crash Inspired By A Real Event? (2024)

Breaking Bad (2008)

Was Breaking Bad's Airplane Crash Inspired By A Real Event? (1)

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Breaking Bad (2008)

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Was Breaking Bad's Airplane Crash Inspired By A Real Event? (5)

Summary

  • Breaking Bad's plane crash in season 2 was inspired by a real-life event, the 1986 Cerritos Midair Collision.
  • The show's foreshadowing and symbolism highlighted Walter White's transformation and the pain he caused.
  • The plane crash's impact on the show's storytelling and character development made it a memorable moment in the series.

A real event did inspire the infamous Breaking Bad plane crash, but the season 2 plane collision isn't as true-to-life as some fans believe. In Breaking Bad season 2, episode 13, "ABQ" - the season finale - two airplanes collided above Walter White's (Bryan Cranston) house and resulted in debris, like a pink bear, landing on his property. The crash was foreshadowed through season 2 before being shown in the season finale. Bizarrely, there are stark similarities between the Breaking Bad plane crash and a real-life disaster — the 1986 Cerritos Midair Collision.

In Breaking Bad, the plane crash saw a 737 commercial airliner collide with a chartered plane over Albuquerque, New Mexico, killing all 167 passengers. The blame was placed on the air traffic controller — the father of Jane Margolis (Krysten Ritter), who recently died after Walter didn't save her from choking on her own vomit. This means that Walt is partially responsible for the Breaking Bad plane crash. However, in an eerie twist on August 31, 1986, two planes clipped each other in the Cerritos Midair Collision. Among those responsible for this real-world crash was an air traffic controller named Walter R. White.

Related

The 10 Breaking Bad Moments That Defined The Show

Breaking Bad features several shocking brief moments that define the entire show, such as the pizza toss, Gus' death, and "I'm the one who knocks."

The Plane Crash Is Symbolic

The Series Foreshadowed The Shocking Event Through Episode Titles

Was Breaking Bad's Airplane Crash Inspired By A Real Event? (7)

It has not been confirmed that Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan knew of this event and used it as inspiration for the show's plane crash. Instead, it has been interpreted that this crash is meant to visualize all the pain and grief that Walt has already caused at that point in the Breaking Bad timeline.

In that way, the plane crash is effective and still manages to surprise many during season 2 despite the multiple pieces of foreshadowing that the season entailed. Notably, in addition to the flash-forwards about the Breaking Bad plane crash in season 2, the episodes in which they appeared all have titles that spelled out the traumatic event and read "Seven Thirty-Seven Down Over ABQ" when combined.

Episode Number

Episode Title

Season 2, Episode 1

"Seven Thirty-Seven"

Season 2, Episode 4

"Down"

Season 2, Episode 10

"Over"

Season 2, Episode 13

"ABQ"

Since audiences don't know for sure whether the real event inspired Breaking Bad's crash, it is left to them to decide. There are so many similarities between the events, though, with the biggest obviously being the real-life air traffic controller sharing the name Walter White. That said, whether this is a big coincidence or intentional, it doesn't change the impact of the event on the show.

The Breaking Bad Plane Crash Coincidences Explained

The Eerie Inclusion Of The Name "Walter White" Seems Unintentional

Was Breaking Bad's Airplane Crash Inspired By A Real Event? (8)

Though the Breaking Bad plane crash was simply meant to highlight Walter White's transformation into Heisenberg, it does have certain shocking similarities with real life. That said, these coincidences can also be reasonably explained by certain facts. For instance, Walter White is a common name. There are over a thousand people currently named Walter White in the U.S., and the name was even more common in the recent past. "Walter White" was a very popular name from the '40s to the '60s.

Moreover, domestic plane crashes in the U.S. are surprisingly common and were more so in the earlier decades of air travel. It is alarming that a real air traffic controller named Walter R. White was responsible for a plane crash in Albuquerque. However, the fact is that almost every state in the U.S. has experienced its own plane crash disaster. Most plane crashes are also caused by human error, so this aspect of Breaking Bad's plane crash isn't as idiosyncratic as it first seems.

Finally, Breaking Bad protagonist Walter White was named deliberately for reasons that had nothing to do with the plane crash. According to Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan (via Cheatsheet):

"Walter White’ appealed to me because of the alliterative sound of it and because it’s strangely bland, yet sticks in your head nonetheless.”

Real Or Not, The Breaking Bad Plane Crash Was Genius Storytelling

Vince Gilligan Spoke To The Foreshadowing And Its Meaning For Walt's Journey

Was Breaking Bad's Airplane Crash Inspired By A Real Event? (9)

Everything that led to the Breaking Bad airplane crash underscores how Vince Gilligan and his crew changed symbolism and foreshadowing in the crime and antihero genre in the late 2000s. Not only do the episode names with the teasers spell out "Seven Thirty-Seven Down Over ABQ," Walt also notably calculated the amount he would need to leave his family at $737,000. Gilligan explained (via NJ.com):

"We came up with the number $737,000, then we reverse-engineered the math. And then the next episode where you have the same black and white teaser, it was called 'Down'... We worked very hard to give them proper dual meanings. So "Over" was over, and in "Down," Jesse was down and out, that's the one where he fell through the blue stuff in the toilet. "ABQ," I don't know what (else) that means, but you go with it.

The foreshadowing of the moment makes it a fun thing to catch after the fact, but what is really important is what the crash means for Walt's journey. Regardless of whether he says it out loud or not, looking up at the planes colliding, he and the audience are witnessing the destruction that he has put in motion. Gilligan explained:

In that moment, at the end of season two, he doesn't realize it, but he's responsible for the whole world figuratively coming to an end around him. It's not deus ex machina, there's another term we were talking about, Lucifer ex machina, "Devil from the machine" -- it's the opposite. It almost could feel kind of random, but it's not. It's a butterfly effect. All these gears have been turning, this particular outcome was stuff Walt put into motion a long time ago by choosing to cook crystal meth.

The Plane Crash Was Breaking Bad's Best Bit Of Foreshadowing

The Crash Was The Outcome Of A Meticulously Plotted Storyline

Breaking Bad was an intense show to watch in the moment, with intense speculation and suspense in every episode. However, it is also a hugely enjoyable series to rewatch, as knowing what will happen allows viewers to pick up on all of the extensive foreshadowing and hints. The show never sacrificed good storytelling in favor of these moments of foreshadowing, but was able to brilliantly intertwine them in the narrative organically. It is a sign of the intricate and intelligent storytelling the series became known for.

While the plane crash might have seemed like such a random moment at the time, looking back, viewers are able to see just how much the show set the stage for this.

However, the plane crash may be the best example of the show’s foreshadowing talents. The show was able to confidently plant seeds and hints about what was coming while still taking the audience by surprise. While the plane crash might have seemed like a random moment at the time, looking back, viewers are able to see just how much the show set the stage for this. It is not just in moments of foreshadowing that the crash would happen, but also maneuvering the characters in a way that made sense for their story.

It is a big, surprising moment that has a wide-scale impact on the community at large. However, at the center of it all is a very intimate reason that comes down to Jesse falling in love and Walt trying to protect his drug empire. Walt would go on to kill many people in Breaking Bad, several of them in cold blood. However, the devastating plane crash was a shocking display of just how devastating his greed could become, regardless of whether or not it was an unintended consequence. Even more telling is his lack of guilt about it all.

Was Breaking Bad's Airplane Crash Inspired By A Real Event? (10)
Breaking Bad

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Breaking Bad, created by Vince Gilligan, follows a chemistry teacher turned drug kingpin named Walter White (Bryan Cranston) as he attempts to provide for his family following a fatal diagnosis. With nothing left to fear, White ascends to power in the world of drugs and crime, transforming the simple family man into someone known only as Heisenberg.

Cast
Bryan Cranston , Aaron Paul , Dean Norris , Betsy Brandt , Anna Gunn , RJ Mitte , Bob Odenkirk , Jonathan Banks , Giancarlo Esposito , Steven Michael Quezada , Charles Baker , Christopher Cousins , Matt Jones , Michael Shamus Wiles , Lavell Crawford , Jesse Plemons , Ray Campbell , Tina Parker , Carmen Serano , Emily Rios , Krysten Ritter , Laura Fraser , Jeremiah Bitsui , Mark Margolis , Ian Posada , David House , David Costabile , michael bowen , Kevin Rankin , Aaron Hill , Harry Groener , Patrick Sane , Daniel Moncada , Luis Moncada , Marius Stan , Bill Burr , Todd Terry , Jessica Hecht , Tait Fletcher , Rodney Rush , Kaija Roze Bales , Matt Metzler , John de Lancie , Tom Kiesche , Jere Burns , Maurice Compte , Morse Bicknell , Nigel Gibbs , Tess Harper , Raymond Cruz , Max Arciniega , Cesar Garcia , Jesus Jr. , Michael Bofshever , Julie Dretzin , Mike Seal , Christopher Dempsey , Javier Grajeda , Mike Batayeh , Chris Freihofer , Louis Ferreira , Gonzalo Menendez , Jason Douglas , Adam Godley

Release Date
January 20, 2008

Seasons
5
Streaming Service(s)
Netflix
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  • Breaking Bad (2008)

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