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Washington D.C. University of District Columbia David A. Clarke Law School

  • University of District Columbia 4340 Connecticut Avenue NW Washington DC (map)


    Pilot Error, the up to the minute feature film inspired by the true story of a French airline missing in the Atlantic, plays Thursday November 17 at 6 p.m. at the University of District Columbia Law School. 

    This special event features a discussion led by two veteran aviation experts, Embry-Riddle Aviation University’s Dr. Gary Helmer and international pilot Mark Marinelli, former head of aviation standardization for the U.S. Army’s Air Operations Group.  They will be joined by the film’s producer and screenwriter Roger Rapoport. 

     The film, hailed as a “first class ticket” by the Milwaukee Journal, inspired by the disappearance of Air France 447 for 22 months, explores many of the questions being asked following the similar loss of another jet, Malaysia Air 370 in March 2014.     Pilots nationwide have welcomed Pilot Error’s nuanced and fair minded look at their profession. It argues that the number one safety system on any aircraft is a well trained pilot.

     Air France 447 was the first of three accidents since 2009 related to high altitude aerodynamic stalls in the intertropical convergence zone, a complex equatorial region subject to hazardous special weather conditions.  In 2014 Air Algerie and Air Asia both lost planes in similar convective storms.  These three tragedies took the lives of 506 passengers.

    Since Pilot Error’s release, the Federal Aviation Administration has mandated that pilots must retrain for high altitude approach to stall and stall recovery.  In addition, every airline simulator must be reprogrammed for this risk.  Some vigilant carriers, such as Alaska Airlines, have already completed these important upgrades well ahead of the FAA’s 2019 deadline.

    The feature stars award winning Michigan stage actress Kate Thomsen, making her screen debut, as investigative reporter Nicola Wilson.  She is determined to find out why a jet headed from South America to Paris disappeared in the Atlantic, taking her close friend and 211 other passengers with it. How, Wilson wants to know, can a plane just disappear?

    As Nicola digs deeper into this mystery she puts her job, friends and very livelihood on the line. Even though she knows nothing about aviation, refuses to fly and doesn't speak French, Nicola quickly uncovers astonishing details about the missing flight. Was it preventable? Has it happened before? Could it happen again? And was it PILOT ERROR?

    Dr. Helmer, who will lead a timely discussion following the film,  teaches numerous safety and aviation courses at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. He is joined by Marinelli who has more than 16 years of experience providing global transport to the nation's most senior military and civilian leadership.

    The film, which is appearing on over 200 screens in America and abroad this year, was cowritten by Rapoport with the feature’s director Joe Anderson.

    Thomsen has distinguished herself on numerous midwestern stages. A winner of a special Irene Ryan Award for her undergraduate work on the Kennedy Center stage, she earned her MFA at the University of California-Irvine. 

    Costarring Hollywood actors Richard Riehle (“Office Space”)  Robert Cicchini (“Godfather III” and “Waterwalk”),  and Larry Herron (“Modern Family”) the film was shot in Michigan, Wisconsin and Paris.

    Composer Garth Neustadter won an emmy at the age of 25 for his John Muir In The New World score.

    Pilot Error was edited by Gene Gamache, who has won many awards for his work on major studio film marketing campaigns and trailers ranging fromForrest Gump, to 12 Years A Slave and Birdman.  He also produced the documentaries Houdini and A Circus Life.

    Cinematographer David Darling worked with well-known Detroit director of photography Bruce Schermer, who shot most of Michael Moore’s Roger & Me and was cinematographer on Sundance grand prize winning Chameleon Street.

    Pilot Error follows up on the success of Rapoport’s first film Waterwalk,  shot in Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa and Missouri(2012), which has played at over 200 theaters nationwide.  That story, a father-son retracing of the Marquette/Joliet discovery route of the Mississippi, was filmed along the Fox, Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers. 

    Pilot Error is based on six years of research and interviews with more than 200 pilots, airline executive, plane manufacturers, regulatory agencies and the team that found missing Air France 447 in the Atlantic.  The film offers audiences an inside look at the fate of pilots unfortunately kept in the dark about failed automation.

    “Top airline training pilots speaking at our events have been warmly received by audiences trying to understand how, in the most interconnected moment in human history, it’s never been easier to hide the truth,” says Rapoport.


About The Event:

Pilot Error screens at 6 p.m. Thursday November 17 at the University of District Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law School (Van Ness Metro), 4340 Connecticut Ave. Room 518.  For more information on UDC Law School contact Joe Libertelli at (202) 724-7338.  For more information on Pilot Error or to an arrange an interview with speaker Dr. Gary Helmer contact Roger Rapoport at (231) 720-0930 or                                                                                                      Facebook: film’s trailer is at 

About the Speakers:

Dr. Gary Helmer is an assistant professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University where he teaches numerous safety and aviation courses.  He holds a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Organizational Behavior/Development, masters' degrees in Business Administration ‐ Aviation, Aviation and Aerospace Safety Systems and Aviation and Aerospace Management, and Industrial Technology Engineering ‐ Safety Management. Dr. Helmer is a Certified Professional Environmental Auditor (CPEA) (Emeritus), Certified Process Safety Auditor (CPSA) (Emeritus), Certified Safety and Health Official (CSHO), Certified Registered Safety Professional (CRSP), and an Aviation Safety Program Manager (ASPM).  He is on the Board of Advisors to the International Society of Safety Professionals (ISSP); and serves on the Ethics Committee of the Board of Environmental, Health & Safety Auditor Certifications (BEAC). He proudly served in the United States Army as a helicopter flight standardization instructor pilot, retiring in 1994 as a Master Army Aviator with over 23 years in uniform.


Mark Marinelli is an independent G550/G450/GV International Captain providing world-wide safe and professional customer-service oriented service. He has served in a wide variety of positions to include rotary wing and fixed wing instructor pilot, flight operations officer, aviation maintenance officer, and chief of aviation standardization for the United States Army's Air Operations Group in Washington, DC. He has more than 16 years of experience providing global transport to the nation's most senior military and civilian leadership. His professional safety record coupled with his positive attitude and abundant energy has earned him top assignments and awards throughout his career. Mark’s vast experience at different levels of management/command have afforded him the ability to view from the top down and analyze the training and operational requirements of a large flight department.