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On 21 Oct 1942, an American Army transport plane runs out of gas over the South Pacific and crash lands in the ocean. On board with the seven crew members is Capt. Edward Rickenbacker, a famed inventor, race car driver and America's "number one" World War I flying ace. After the men scramble into three rubber rafts, they realize that their water, rations and medical supplies are aboard the sinking plane. Although only Sgt. Alex is seriously injured, Col. Hans Adamson suffers a wrenched back and Sgt. Jim Reynolds' nose is lacerated. As the men, including Capt. Bill Cherry, Lt. Jim Whittaker, Pvt. John Bartek and Lt. Johnny DeAngelis, argue about the chances of rescue, Eddie assures them of the capabilities of modern technology. He then reminisces about the beginning of his lifelong involvement with machines: In Columbus, Ohio, Eddie is one of seven children born to an immigrant couple. Eddie's father William is a bridge builder and encourages Eddie's affinity for mechanical contraptions, although his mother Elise is not pleased by Eddie's attempts to fly with the aid of a large umbrella. Eddie's childhood ends abruptly when William is killed in an industrial accident, and a heartbroken Elise warns her son to avoid machinery. The teenaged Eddie takes odd jobs to support his family, but when he meets car salesman Tom Clark, he confesses his love for automobiles and persuades owner Ike Howard to employ him at the factory. With his first pay packet in hand, Eddie buys a ride on a rickety airplane and receives a concussion when the plane crashes. Elise makes Eddie swear never to go up in a plane again, which he reluctantly does. Eddie's reverie comes to an end as he and his raft companions are faced with starvation. Gentle Bartek finds comfort in the Bible, for which he is ridiculed by Whittaker. Two weeks pass as the men, wracked by thirst and hunger, pray for rain, fish and rescue. Eddie's mind again wanders back to Ohio, to the time when he met his future wife: Now an adult and a successful car salesman, Eddie accidentally runs over the bicycle of Adelaide Frost. Eddie gives her a ride to her class at a dancing academy, where he takes lessons to impress the pretty young woman. Despite competition from Lester Thomas, the most persistent of Adelaide's beaux, Eddie wins Adelaide's heart, and as time passes, becomes a famous race car driver. Eddie and Adelaide become engaged, but before they can marry, Eddie is called to serve in France as General Pershing's driver during World War I. Knowing that Eddie still loves airplanes, Elise releases him from his promise never to fly again, and soon Eddie becomes America's greatest ace. After the war ends, Eddie marries Adelaide, although their honeymoon is cut short when Eddie receives word that his plans for a commercial airline have been approved. Eddie is brought back to the present when a violent storm pummels the tiny rafts. The men gather rainwater, but the ordeal proves too much for Alex and he dies. Later, Whittaker again disparages Bartek's faith, and Eddie recalls how Adelaide and their two sons never lost hope that he would survive after being injured in a commercial airline crash. By 11 November 1942, Eddie can no longer endure Whittaker's cynicism and the men vow to fight "when" they return home. The situation improves after a seagull lands on Eddie's head and he captures it for food. Meanwhile, Adelaide refuses to believe that Eddie is dead, although the War Department notifies her that it is about to abandon the search. A day later, Bartek confesses his fear that they will not be rescued, but as Eddie begins to despair, he hears planes overhead. One of the pilots drops a flare to let the rafts's occupants know that they have been seen, and a grateful Eddie remembers his father's words praising technology.