Race For The Yankee Zephyr
Available For License In Australia TV Only
The ‘Yankee Zephyr’, a US Navy DC-3 cargo plane, has been missing since it first dropped from the skies during a flight from New Guinea to New Zealand in December, 1944. Un-recovered along with the wreck are a consignment of war medals, Christmas mail for the troops, and the entire payroll for the American South Pacific fleet – an estimated fifty million dollars.
Barney Whittaker (Ken Wahl) and his partner, Gibbie Gibson (Donald Pleasence), earn their living hunting and capturing deer on the upper slopes of New Zealand’s southern alps, hauling them aloft and transporting them with the aid of ancient helicopter held together by God’s grace and Barney’s extraordinary mechanical skills. After being accidentally left behind on a trip, Gibbie, the elder of the two mountain men, happens upon an old aircraft wreck by a lakeside while making his way homewards. He discovers the cargo intact, despite water corrosion and the age of the wreck, and is elated to find boxes laden with military medals. On reaching town, he sells those he has been able to carry for $75 a piece to a coin collector, then, typically, sets out for the nearest alehouse to enjoy his good fortune.
When Barney finally sobers him up, Gibbie tells him of his find and shows him the remaining handful of medals taken from the cache. Barney returns to the coin collector hoping for a better price, but is beaten up by three burly thugs anxious to learn details of the aircraft’s whereabouts. Deciding to return to the wreck to pick up the remainder of the horde, Barney and Gibbie must first find two thousand dollars for repairs to their permanently ailing helicopter. For that, Gibbie has a suggestion.
Pounding out the keys of a piano and singing with religious fervor to the derelicts and winos at the seaman’s mission she helps to run, is Sally Gibson (Lesley Ann Warren), Gibbie’s daughter, a spinster in her late thirties. Here, Gibbie hopes to obtain the money for their venture, but Sally is well versed in her father’s ‘hundred per center’ investments. She refuses, but after much persuasion, eventually agrees to finance them with the inheritance she received from her aunt on the condition that she accompanies them as an equal partner.
After withstanding Sally’s strictly no drinking, no gambling, no nonsense attitude for several days while the helicopter is repaired, the mountain men are at last ready to return to wreck of the ‘Zephyr’ – but they are no longer alone in their quest. Watching their every move, and following their progress from both the air and on the ground, are Theo Brown (George Peppard), a ‘businessman’ of dubious background, and his ‘associates’.
The race to the ‘Yankee Zephyr’ is fraught with problems and dangers. As their chopper begins to disintegrate , only Barney’s ingenuity keeps the trio moving across the rugged terrain by constantly modifying their means of transport. When Brown eventually moves in and tells them the real value of the ‘Zephy’s’ cargo, Gibbie is taken along with him to find the wreck while Barney and Sally are left stranded.
But the competitors in the race have overlooked the rising waters of the lake caused through the melting snows and opened dam. The ‘Yankee Zephyr’, covered by the lake, remains hidden from Brown despite his reluctant guide. Only Barney, who has reasoned what has happened, has the skill and knowledge to resurrect the wreck.
An uneasy alliance is struck between the protagonists, but as Barney works to re-float the ‘Zephyr’, treachery is still rife, and there is greater danger still when the wreck of the ‘Yankee Zephyr’ begins to move.