Bill Duke On The Day He Almost Died

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Bill Duke, Actor/Filmmaker/Author: I’ll give you another example, (it’s in my book) in 1984 I was working very hard and when your agent says “You’re tired.” You’ve got to take a vacation. My agent makes 10% of what you make. When your agent tells you to take a vacation, you know you’re exhausted.

So I took a vacation and went to Hawaii because he had just gotten married and told me to stay at the hotel there by myself. I just wanted to totally chill.

I was there for a few weeks. I said “I want to come back to this place. I’ve never been here. It’s beautiful.” So I got in the plane called the Island Hoppers, it goes from one island to another and they do a ground tour and then go to another island. We were on our way to Maui from the Big Island and it was a twin-engine plane.

Bill Duke: My 40-Year Career on Screen and behind the Camera by Bill Duke

And then all the sudden the plane started going [makes sputtering noises]. So we all stopped and said “What the heck?” And it stopped so we started laughing, you know?

As soon as we laughed it went [more sputtering noises] and the fellow said “Sit down! Sit down! Sit down! Sit down! Sit down and buckle your seats.”

Now usually in the movies when a plane is in trouble the pilot says “Ladies and Gentlemen, be calm, be still, we’re in control.” Little bit about the pilot…the pilot was doing “Help us Jesus. Help us Mary. Help us Lord. Help us Jesus. Help us Mary. Help us Lord.” The pilot!

I look out the window and say “Damn, we sure are close to the…BAMMMM!” We crashed in the water.

Now water seems soft, right? When you hit the water from that height it went BAM, BAM. It tore the bolts out of my seat and threw me forward. This scar is from that happening. And when that happened…it’s hard to explain but it’s an out-of-body experience…something up there looked down and I know it sounds crazy but down at me and my seat, all the people hurt, the pilot and everything.

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So this thing, I can’t explain what it was, it’s peaceful, just observing…me. The pilot wakes up. His face hit the dashboard of the plane “Everybody up! Get out!” This thing and my body merged back together and they said out loud (because I don’t swim) I said “Bill…” I said it out loud “You always wanted to know how you’re going to die? Now you know.” I just sat there waiting. The water is coming up…boom, boom, boom. Blood is coming up…boom, boom, boom.

The pilot gets these people out, takes them to the wing he says “Hey you! C’mon, let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!” I said “I can’t swim.” He says “[Sighs] Unbuckle your seat.” Okay, I unbuckle my seat. “Take the life donut out.” I’ve thrown it up. “Put it around your head.” He gives me instructions. “Pull the chords.” When I read the brochure there were about five chords. I looked down and saw a thousand and kept pulling them and pulling them and pulling them and nothing happened.

He said “Come to the wing!” I said “I don’t see.” He said “Come to the wing!” I got to the wing. I’m standing there and they all paddled away because they all see family and everything, they are 500-600 feet away and he says “Jump! Jump! Undertow! Undertow!” I said “I can’t swim.” He says “Jump!” I say to myself “What the hell do I have to lose. I’m going to die anyway.” So I jumped and I forgot to tie the life donut around my waist because he had pulled the chord as I passed him. It blew up. I’ve got it tied around my waist.

I went down once, twice, third time I came up…life donut (I’m not exaggerating) the life donut is here [by his head]. I put it around my head like a little dog, I do like this [paddles] and I reach them.

I recently turned around, this big mouth of water swallows the plane and takes it under, if I stayed on the wing I would have died.

I’m telling this all…the truth. In the water, ten minutes passes. People are moaning and groaning. A lady says “Look! Boats, planes, boats, planes.” I my thought is before you die because there’s sharks in the water and everything, you have these delusional thoughts and you think you see things. That’s what she’s doing, right? So I say [makes dismissive sound]. “Boats, planes, boats, planes.” Take this to Vegas, you tell me the chances of this happening. Twice a year the Hawaii Fire Department sends its emergency rescue teams out to do practices in all different parts of the ocean.

This day they were one half nautical miles away from us. They saw the plane go in. They were there in minutes. They took everybody out of the water, wrapped us in blankets, asked if we were okay and started driving us back to shore.

I sat next to the pilot, six foot three Ichabod Crane, blue eyes. I could see his face, dark hair with white streaks. He’s shivering, I’m shivering, he’s sitting. And I say to him “Sir I don’t want to disturb you but I was in shock. You talked me through getting out of the plane. You talked me into jumping off the wing, you talked me to paddling toward…you saved my life and I want to thank you. I cannot know what to say?” He looks at me and he says “I appreciate you saying this.” He says “I’m a Catholic. I believe in Jesus Christ.” He says “I don’t know what you believe in?” He says “…But don’t thank me. Thank that.”

Turns away from me, looks back in my face, grabs my shoulder, and starts crying like a baby.

I get back to shore and people are in shock because planes that crash in that part of the water don’t have survivors. I have no way of explaining it to say that that is one of the days I realized that there are things happening in this Universe that are far beyond my intellect…far beyond my intellect. And I had my two Master’s degrees and I was so smart…[scoffs]…I can’t even tell you how much I learned from that experience.

I have pictures on the wall in my condo up there of that day from the newspaper. I saved it and just framed it. I never want to forget it. So it shaped my life. Between those experiences and meditation, it shaped my life and made me understand that…you know…

Watch the video interview on Youtube here

Bill Duke directing Lou Diamond Phillips in CREATED EQUAL



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Watch it on Amazon here!

If you’re not quite ready to let go of the Halloween spirit, new indie feature film Mandao of the Dead is now available on Amazon VOD.

Mandao (Man-Day-Oh) of the Dead is about Jay Mandao and his nephew-in-law Jackson who use astral projection to reverse a ghost’s death on Halloween.

This astral comedy is the second feature film Written and Directed by Scott Dunn and produced by Gina Gomez Dunn. It was filmed in 10 days with a production budget of just $13k. The duo’s first feature film, Schlep won Best Comedy/Dramedy at the Hollywood Boulevard Festival and was nominated in 5 different categories at the FirstGlance Film Festival. Schlep is also available on AmazonMandao of the Dead will be released on iTunes and DVD/Blu-ray in January 2019.