Dear Edward: Is the Apple TV+ Show Based on a Real Plane Crash?

Created by Jason Katims (‘Parenthood’), ‘Dear Edward’ is an Apple TV+ drama series that revolves around multiple characters experiencing shared grief when their loved ones perish in a plane crash. The eponymous character (Colin O’Brien), a 12-year-old boy from Manhattan, New York, is the sole survivor of the crash that killed his family and all the other people on the plane. Now, he must navigate through his grief while dealing with the religious fervor of the people who regard his survival as a miracle.

Equipped with a stellar ensemble cast including Connie Britton and Taylor Schilling, ‘Dear Edward’ delivers a poignant and somber ride through a myriad of emotions. Plane crashes are rare, but they do happen, and if that has made you wonder whether ‘Dear Edward’ is inspired by a true story, we got you covered.

Dear Edward: Draws from Real-Life Air Crash

Yes, ‘Dear Edward’ is based on a true story, at least partially. While Edward and other characters in the show are fictional, the core narrative is developed from real events. Katims developed ‘Dear Edward’ from the 2020 namesake novel by Ann Napolitano, who drew inspiration from the crash of Afriqiyah Airways Flight 771 on May 12, 2010. There were 104 passengers and crew members on board the plane at the time. Only one among them, a 9-year-old Dutch boy named Ruben van Assouw, survived the incident.

Image Credit: Omroep Brabant

Like Edward in the show, Ruben lost his older brother, Enzo, and parents, Trudy and Patrick, in the crash. The family was returning to the Netherlands from a vacation in South Africa when the tragedy occurred. Rescue teams discovered an unconscious Ruben still strapped into his seat in the wreckage of Flight 771, which took off from Johannesburg, South Africa, and exploded while landing at Tripoli, Libya. Ruben’s uncle and aunt, Jeroen van der Sande and Ingrid van Assouw, respectively, came to Libya as soon as possible.

According to the Associated Press, they told Ruben the truth about what happened a couple of days later. By May 15, Ruben left to head back to Netherlands. In an interview with Library Journal, Napolitano reflected on why Ruben’s story drew her attention. “I think I couldn’t let go because I was both deeply worried about Ruben and deeply curious about how he could go on after such a terrible tragedy,” the author said. “His aunt and uncle did an amazing job of protecting Ruben’s privacy once he was released from the hospital, but that meant I couldn’t know that he became okay.”

Napolitano added, “I had to create a set of circumstances under which a little boy in that situation could believably become a whole person, in spite of—or even because of—what he’d lost. I needed him to be okay, so I had to write my way into believing that was possible.” In her book, the author used Maslow’s hierarchy to structure Edward’s recovery process. “I struggled for years to find shape, or a believable arc, to Edward’s storyline,” she explained in an interview with Authorlink. “I had to walk such a careful emotional line, that at times I found it paralyzing [for me as the writer, and for Edward].”

She continued, “I think my husband had the idea to align his growth to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and that through-line made real sense to me. Maslow portrayed the hierarchy as a triangle, with physical survival being the wide bottom of the triangle—deeply necessary to us as humans—and the thin point on top being self-actualization.” After reading Napolitano’s book, Katims thought that it had the potential to be a powerful and moving TV series.

“And I just sort of fell in love with it. What I was interested in telling was this story about resilience, a story about people coming back from something that was very hard,” Katims told the EW. Several characters in ‘Dear Edward’ are created by Katims, including Dee Dee, portrayed by Connie Britton, who reunites with Katims for the first time since their collaboration in ‘Friday Night Lights.’ “I always wanted to work with Jason again, but it’s almost like you have to let time pass. You have to get to that right moment. I was so excited to hear from [him],” Britton told Deadline.

As a show, ‘Dear Edward’ offers a candid look at grief and resilience. “It’s not afraid to talk about grief, which is a wonderful thing,” Katims explained to EW. “But there’s also so much life in it and love and romance and all the things that I’d like to see when I’m watching shows.” So, to sum it all up, ‘Dear Edward’ has certain aspects that it draws from real life, but that doesn’t mean it is entirely devoid of any fictional elements.

Read More: Where is Dear Edward Filmed?