By Gregory Crofton
Eli Timoner was a successful man in charge of his life. He also cared about the people around him and didn’t dodge difficult fights, even if they were political in nature.
But then something bad and unexpected happened. During a chiropractic or deep massage session, the cracking of his neck caused a stroke that paralyzed the left side of his body.
Timoner, 53, was then CEO of Air Florida, an upstart budget airline that had grown quickly. He founded the company in 1972 after realizing there often wasn’t a flight available when he needed it.
Timoner’s stroke happened in 1982, only weeks after an Air Florida plane crashed into a highway overpass shortly after takeoff in Washington D.C., killing 78 people and injuring nine others.
Timoner continued on with the love and support of his family, and could walk with a cane, but he lost his job at the airline, forced out because of his injury. Financially his family went through difficult times in subsequent years, which caused him a great deal of shame, something we learn in his daughter’s Ondi Timoner’s new documentary about him, “Last Flight Home.”
Ondi Timoner‘s work is well known in the documentary industry. She made “DIG!” and “We Live in Public,” and generally works on projects that focus on progressive and modern things like Rock ‘n’ Roll, technology, and global warming.
“Last Flight Home” is no different in that it takes on the issue of the right to die. By 2021 her father’s health had declined. He could no longer get around on his own, and he decided at the age of 92 to exercise his right die as a Californian.
The right to die became legal in California in 2016. This was news to me. Even as a fan of Dr. Jack Kevorkian, an advocate and practitioner of euthanasia, who served more than eight years in prison for the cause, I only knew that such a law had passed in Oregon. But today it’s also legal in Hawaii, Washington, Maine, Colorado, New Jersey, and Vermont.
What “Last Flight Home” does best is show what happens after someone decides to die. It is difficult to watch, and better with company. The doc, not something Ondi Timoner expected to make into a feature film, reveals the true strength of her father’s character as he says goodbye to friends and family over a period weeks.
But then comes the actual self-death procedure. It is somewhat barbaric, which you might expect given the law only passed relatively recently. Death didn’t come with a humane series of injections, like your beloved pet might be allowed to get.
“You’ve got to keep going Daddy,” Ondi Timoner says to her father, as he uses a wide straw to drink a mix of juice and poison powder. It does not taste good and he has to finish it under his own power — he has to hold the glass — within two minutes.
The procedure is awkward and stressful and got worse at the end. “It’s horrible in my mouth,” Eli tells the family members who surround his bed. “I can’t stand it.” Ondi feeds her father some chocolate sorbet to help improve the taste in his mouth.
His last words on camera seem to be “It hurts.” Those words were either related to his impending death or the oxygen tube pulled gently out of his nose and over his head by his daughter. Minutes later family members are holding Eli’s lifeless body as they reposition it for the coroner’s takeaway.
“Last Flight Home” will be available in the DOC NYC virtual theater through Nov. 27, before it launches on Paramount+ Nov. 29.
Watch a trailer for the film below.