B.G. Hilton – Writer

In Search Of… S04E21 Air Disaster Predictions

We open on footage of the burning wreckage of a jet airliner while sad music plays. Nimoy mounfully intones a speech about the tragedy of air disasters. Got a feeling this is going to be a bad one.

Leonard Nimoy in In Search Of s04e21 Air Disaster Predictions
Many of the images in this episode are either boring or depressing, so I’m going with this one.

Now we’re looking at a woman in bed and quick cutting from this to a plane and back again. Same with a man with an awesome 70s moustache, cutting with a burning plane wreck. “Were these dreams nightmares, or will they prove to be prophecy?”

Let’s find out.

Nimoy talks about aircraft accident researchers, but the footage is of first responders. We segue from serious accident investigation to a ‘psychic researcher’ called Allen Vaughn who claims that an ‘early warning system’ may exist ‘within our own minds’. To be fair, a psychic researcher trying figure out an early warning system that does not exist within our own minds is probably going just a little far off-brand.

The next bit has some great footage of Apollo Program rockets intercut with shots of Vaughn meditating. Vaughn claims he had a vision of Apollo 12 going wrong – which Nimoy concedes didn’t happen. But Apollo 13 DID go pretty wrong so… win for Vaughn? Nimoy – correctly – points out that sceptics would not agree with this conclusion. Doesn’t mention why they might not agree, which seems a bit of an oversight.

But, as said, I’m loving the Apollo Program footage.

Nimoy gives a roundabout speech about sleep and ESP which basically boils down to ‘maybe you can predict things in your dreams’, and then we’re looking at footage of a guy in bed while scientists look at oscillating needles on a brain-wave doohickie. A white-coated researcher who looks like Christopher Lee’s good-natured cousin talks about dreams of the future and then we’re looking at a 1970s-guy talking about his dream to a researcher in cool glasses, before being shown a series of random images on a slideshow. The idea is to see if he dreamed what is in the slideshow I guess? The scientist talks about the chance basis for accidentally dreaming something seen in the slideshow. He also mentions that someone has to judge whether the dream images correspond to the slideshow images, but surely this part is less important then sciencey-sounding things like odds and probability?

I don’t say this flippantly. If someone dreams about, say, a cake and then sees an image of a croissant is that a hit or a miss? Do we say ‘yes, he foresaw pastry’ or ‘no, he specifically meant cake’, because this very definitely affects the scientist’s claims of how unlikely the correspondence is. If a dream about Apollo 12 – which directly referenced Neil Armstrong, by the way – is considered basically the same as a dream about Apollo 13, then how close does a prediction have to be to be considered a hit?

Stock footage of people on the street, then we’re in the office of Robert Nelson, a man who runs a premonition registry. His plan is that people who have intuitions of the future write to him, and he correlates them. If a bunch of people are all predicting an air disaster, for example he would warn the airline. Plus the other airlines, just in case the predictions were close but wrong. Plus the FAA – look, he’d just warn someone.

He adds that he hadn’t had to do this by the time this episode was made. Now we’re talking to a woman who didn’t know about the registry, which appears to be a pity because she’s being built up as someone who was right. She talks of dreaming about an air disaster involving a plane to California. She calls this radio announcer, who didn’t think much of this but a day later an airliner collided with a private plane over San Diego. The radio announcer guy had an extraordinary reaction, as you might imagine.

The same woman claimed to have made other accurate predictions of air disasters, but this is the first one that was verifiable. Later, she had another dream of an air disaster – here illustrated by showing her sit up in bed suddenly. Again, she told her premonition to a radio announcer. There’s a little toing and froing about which details she gave exactly on air, then footage of the woman looking pensively at a model airplane in a shop window.

She gave a more detailed description of her dreams to yet another radio announcer, suggesting that it was now less than a month from the event. There’s a prolonged – and largely successful — attempt to raise tension by talking about the woman’s fear of sleeping as the dreams become worse… and then we’re talking to a different guy, the guy with the 70s ‘tache from earlier.

He talks about his own dream about an airline crash in great detail, down to the strange noise the engines were making. There’s more attempts to raise tension by going into great detail about this guy’s daily routine and feelings rather than just cutting to the resolution.

Anyway, after having this same dream for 7 nights, he calls the FAA and talks to a Southern guy with one of those beard-but-no-moustache deals. The FAA guy says there isn’t enough information in the dream to identify a plane, let alone do anything about it. But, interestingly, the FAA guy is taking the whole thing very seriously. When the guy has a re-enactment of the dream for the tenth time, he somehow knows he will never have the dream again. Reenactment of him at work, looking anxious.

And… oh! Didn’t see this coming. We’re bringing back the woman from the last segment. Apparently, there was a big plane crash and they’re arguing that both of these people predicted it. It was apparently the worst air disaster in US history (at the time).

The FAA guy is convinced that the moustache guy’s details were right. Moustache guy blames himself for not having just a little bit more information, and he certainly seems very earnest about it.

Okay, going to pause here for a moment. Let’s talk psychic dreams. We all dream at night though we don’t always remember all of the details of those dreams. And sometimes something in your dream will correspond to something that happens after you dream it. And sometimes it doesn’t. And sometimes it sort of does if you think about it? And so on. If you only look at the times when someone – anyone – dreamed something that seems close to something that happened later, then it’s very easy to make the case for precognition. It’s classic confirmation bias.

I don’t doubt for a minute that these two people had some disturbing dreams. I can’t say how close these dreams came to reality, because I’m not getting an unfiltered transcript of what they said, just the elements that the producers of In Search Of have decided to share. Obviously, I can’t prove that these people didn’t have genuine psychic visions — only that this show hasn’t demonstrated that they did. We’re left with a ‘that’s spooky but…’ sort of a preposition. Which, to be fair, is the proposition that powers many of this show’s best entries.

But back to the show and… Allan Vaughn and his dream workshops at the ‘New Waves of Consciousness Foundation’ in San Francisco. Sigh. Vaughn spouts some 1970s New Age drivel. It’s dull. Robert Nelson from the Central Premonitons Registry is brought back, but just to give his PO Box address. And over.

An okay episode. Long stretches of not much happening, but for once this is an exercise in building tension rather than simply padding. My reservations about the accuracy of the predictions aside, I think the constrained form of the episode actually works in its favour. By avoiding a broad study of prophetic dreams in favour of prophetic dreams specifically about something verifiable and concrete as air disasters, they have built a stronger case than they might have. I’m not convinced myself, mind you – I just appreciate that the show is at least trying to allow you to check its work, for once.


“As a personal councillor who feels she has a heightened sense of ESP, Sean is often interviewed about the subject.” – Nimoy

“But you can’t forget plane crash dreams, they won’t let you. They come back – they come back without warning.” – First dreamer. I’ll have to take her word on that.

“Trying to describe some of the emotions that I felt… I mean, how do you describe sorrow?” – Second dreamer. I’m not sure if this is very deep, or he just needs a thesaurus. I like the line, either way.

Summing up:

Footage of people re-enacting waking up in the middle of a dream: 9/10. Tension: 7/10. Nimoyness: 6/10. Electronic music: 6/10. Fulfilled promise of psychic air disaster early warning system: 0/10. Overall: 28/50. Pass.

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