Lieutenant Colonel Austin Travis leads an unsuccessful Special Forces raid on a Chechen mafia safe house in Italy to recover a stolen Soviet nerve agent, DZ-5. Shortly after, Oceanic Airlines Flight 343 leaves Athens, Greece, bound for Washington, with U.S. Senator Mavros onboard. Nagi Hassan, lieutenant of the imprisoned terrorist leader El Sayed Jaffa, and his men hijack the flight, demanding Jaffa’s release.
Dr. David Grant, a United States Naval Academy graduate and now a consultant for the U.S. Army’s intelligence community, and DARPA engineer Cahill join a team led by Travis to intercept the plane. After listening to Hassan’s demands, Grant disbelieves that Hassan wants Jaffa released. Instead, he thinks Hassan engineered Jaffa’s capture and plans to use the plane to detonate a bomb loaded with the DZ-5 gas over U.S. airspace in a suicide mission. The Pentagon authorizes a mid-air transfer of an Army special operations team onto the hijacked airliner using an experimental version of the F-117 stealth aircraft.
The boarding is only partially successful. When a commando, “Cappy,” is seriously injured with a broken neck, Grant boards to assist Cappy. The Oceanic Airlines 747 pulls up, though, putting too much stress on the boarding sleeve. Unable to board, Travis sacrifices himself by closing the 747’s hatch before the stealth craft is torn off and crashes. The survivors enter the 747’s lower deck, but with half their equipment and no communication, leaving the Pentagon unaware of their survival. With limited options, the commandos search for the supposed bomb. Grant makes contact with a flight attendant, Jean, and recruits her despite Hassan’s suspicions.