The movie centers on three crew members of a USAF Air Rescue Service HU-16 Albatross and various experiences in their collective pasts, told in flashback. Some have considered the flashbacks as tedious and bori...展开ng, but the aircraft sequences are generally considered quite good, especially for fans of the Grumman Albatross. Richard Widmark plays Colonel Stevenson (the pilot in command); Yul Brynner portrays Master Sergeant Mike Takashima (the Pararescue specialist) and George Chakiris portrays the co-pilot, Lieutenant Gregg.
MSgt Mike Takashima, Col Glenn Stevenson, and 1st Lt John Gregg, all members of the U. S. Air Force Air Rescue Service at Ashiya, Japan, set out to rescue the survivors of a Japanese ship wrecked in a still-raging storm. As they fly to the site of the wreck, each man recalls a part of his past: Gregg remembers the avalanche caused when his helicopter came too close to a mountain. The avalanche subsequently buried alive the group of people whom he was attempting to rescue. The accident has since caused him to fear flying solo. Stevenson, deeply prejudiced against the Japanese, recalls the reason for his hatred: as a civilian pilot in the Philippines prior to World War II, he met and married Caroline Gordon. She and their infant son later died in a Japanese prison camp when they were refused medical supplies which were being saved for Japanese soldiers. Takashima, half-American, half-Japanese, reminisces about his tragic love affair with Leila, an Algerian girl, during World War II. He was unable to stop the blowing up of a bridge where Leila had run to look for him after learning that his unit was being withdrawn from town. When one air rescue plane crashes while attempting to land in the treacherous seas, Stevenson refuses to jeopardize his plane for Japanese lives. At the last minute, however, he recalls Caroline's dying plea not to hate; he overcomes his prejudice. Takashima volunteered to parachute to the liferafts with rescue equipment. Stevenson and Gregg then land the plane at sea and rescue the survivors, but when Stevenson is injured in the landing, Gregg is forced to overcome his fear and handle the dangerous takeoff and the flight back to Ashiya.