Superman’s Director Takes Flight

Richard and Lauren Donner

Richard Donner — the director of Superman: The Movie — took flight on Aug. 20, 2014. An Airlift Northwest flight, that is. Donner went to Orcas Medical Center with abdominal pain, their medical staff promptly called Airlift Northwest, and our flying ICU took Donner to PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center in Bellingham, Wash.

In addition to being a highly productive director and producer — his credits include Lethal Weapon, The Goonies, and X-Men (a partnership with his wife, producer Lauren Donner) — the 85-year-old Donner is quick with a comeback.

What do you like about vacationing on Orcas Island?
It’s kind of a love story. I don’t know if we found Orcas, or Orcas found us, but one way or another, it’s worked for 25 years.

What happened last summer?
I felt very ill — I’d had the experience once before — so I went to Orcas Medical Center. The doctor was great. He did some quick tests: he knew the symptoms, he knew the cause, and he knew the answer. He thought I should be in a proper hospital, so he called Airlift Northwest. The next thing I knew, the EMTs were there, and then the crew from Airlift. It all went so fast. I want to say it was a delightful experience, but I hope I never do it again.

How are you feeling today?
(And a segue about helicopters.)

I’m feeling great, but let me tell you something. I hate helicopters. Often, while filming, I use choppers. I got thrown off the pontoon of a helicopter and landed in the water. We lost a sliding door on a big one. So I’ve tried to stay away from helicopters until Airlift Northwest came into my life. I’m back to loving helicopters.

How was this whole experience?
When we make movies, we make a lot of demands on people, and it has to run smoothly. I would like to think that whatever I do next will run as smoothly as everything did last August. From my time at the clinic, to the EMTs, to the Airlift flight, to the hospital, it was extraordinarily well-organized and disciplined. It seemed totally seamless.

One movie question: what’s rewarding about your job?
I get a tremendous kick out of going to a movie theater and trying to sit in the very front row so I can look back at the audience. We’re illusionists, and we create illusions of love and laughter and action and whatever. Watching the faces of the audience, I think, “wow, I did that.” It’s a wonderful feeling, especially if it’s joyful.

To learn more about Airlift, including its AirCare program and other opportunities for partnership, please visit uwmedicine.org/airlift-nw.

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