Doug White: Where is On a Wing and a Prayer Pilot Now?

Image Credit: FS MaNiA/YouTube

Directed by Sean McNamara, ‘On a Wing and a Prayer’ is an Amazon Prime biographical drama film that tells the incredible story of Doug White (Dennis Quaid) and his family. On Easter Sunday 2009, White, his wife Terri (Heather Graham), and daughters Maggie (Jessi Case) and Bailey (Abigail Rhyne) boarded King Air 200 N559DW plane on their way home in Archibald, Louisiana, from Marco Island, Florida, where the White family has been for a week following the death of Doug’s older brother Jeff.

It wasn’t even 10 minutes after the take-off that the veteran pilot of the plane, Joe Cabuk Jr., lost consciousness and subsequently died, leaving Doug with no other choice but to take control of the aircraft. With the help of his wife, Terri, air traffic controllers at the Miami Air Route Traffic Control Center and Fort Meyer Airport, and flight instructor Kari Sorenson, Doug succeeded in landing the plane at Fort Meyer.

Who is Doug White?

Doug White spent his childhood in Vienna, West Virginia. After graduating high school, he attended Harding University, a private Christian college in Searcy, Arkansas. He subsequently wanted to study pharmacy, but as colleges in Arkansas and West Virginia considered him a resident of the other state, he was moved down the list of both colleges. Eventually, Doug enrolled at the University of Louisiana Monroe, a public university in Monroe, Louisiana. This was his first time in the state that would eventually become his permanent home.

Doug met Terri after he was hired to run a pharmacy in a town called Mangham in Louisiana. He eventually bought a store of his own there. Right next to him was another store, run by Terri, called Mangham Drug. As Doug tells FS MaNiA in an interview, “This girl that owned Mangham Drug, she was local born and raised, so she was pretty much killing me in business, and I couldn’t beat her so just married her. I married my competition, and we put both stores together.”

Terri has two children from previous relationships: a son Joey and a daughter Jessica. Doug began taking flying lessons in Jackson, Mississippi, around 1989. He got a pilot’s license in 1990 and didn’t think much about it for the next two decades. In the late 2000s, he got back into the cockpit for more flight experience. This time flying a single-engine Cessna 172s, he clocked in about 150 hours of flight time — an experience that would later save his life and those of his wife and daughters.

White was actually the owner of the King Air plane he flew that day and used to lease it through his company, White Equipment Leasing LLC. But he never flew the plane before the incident. A King Air is a significantly bigger, faster, and more complicated plane than a Cessna 172s. Following Cabuk’s death, Doug and Terri tried to move him from the pilot’s seat but feared that he might slump down, affecting the controls. So, they kept him strapped to the seat for the time.

At Fort Meyer, air traffic controllers reached out to Sorenson in Connecticut, who had previous experience flying King Air planes. According to Sorenson, it took Doug about 20 minutes to learn how to fly the plane. Fire trucks and EMTs were waiting for the White family as they landed at Fort Meyer. The first responders reportedly tried to revive Cabuk for 30 minutes but were unsuccessful. A day after the incident, Doug told the news reporters that he and his family wouldn’t have survived if it weren’t for the help of Sorenson and the people in the air traffic control room that day. “Heartfelt thanks,” he stated. “They don’t make near enough money, don’t get near enough respect for what they do.”

Doug White is Flying Commercial Planes Now

Doug and Terri continue to live in Archibald, Louisiana, in the house where the latter grew up. As of 2023, Doug and Terri are very much together. Maggie was 32 during the FS MaNiA interview in 2022, and Bailey was 30. Maggie is the mother to two girls, and Bailey is the mother to one. Through Joey and Jessica, Doug is the grandfather of five other boys and girls.

Image Credit: FS MaNiA/YouTube

After the incident, Doug didn’t waste much time before going back into the cockpit. “When I got back, I had a decision to make: either get back on the horse that threw me or never get back again,” Doug told FS MaNiA. He first got 40-50 hours of flight time to make his pilot license current. He then decided to get a license as an instrument pilot. Doug enrolled in a program organized by AIFT (Accelerated Flight Instrument Training) and traveled to Georgetown, Texas, to train under flight instructor Bill Eldridge. A Vietnam vet, Eldridge was the first one to notice that Doug had developed PTSD.

Doug got licenses for instruments, multi-engines, and commercials. He started flying the King Air plane and used it in his efforts to give back to the world. Doug flew provisions to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake and Belize. He also became affiliated with the Veteran Airlift Command and flew 99% of these VAC missions back and forth to the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. Doug eventually sold the King Air because keeping it was proving to be too costly. These days, he only flies commercials on Delta Airlines.

Read More: Is On a Wing and a Prayer Based on a True Story?