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Sierra Alpha 638


In order to pick up his marijuana shipment located in a desert in California, a cult leader hijacks a commercial flight bound for Mexico City.



Air Dates

  • First Run - July 9, 1980
  • Repeat - October 30, 1980





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19 Responses to Episode 1101

A cult leader hijacks an airliner so he can pick up his pot supply in a California desert.

Ghelo Diesta

"Just Say No" to Reverend Joy. 8) Let me preface this by saying that, in general, my personal preference is for Mystery Theater's supernatural tales or traditional OTR-style mysteries, as well as adaptations of classic literature. More stylized dramatic genres seemed to work better for them. Whenever they tried their hand at cutting edge, real-life dramas, they were never quite as successful. Having said that, I couldn't get into this one. I almost turned it off during the second act. The acting and production values were perfectly fine, very solid--in fact, they were the only thing that kept me from rating this a 1 instead of a 2. But the hijacking story just didn't appeal to me. It didn't seem to work well as a radio drama, nor did it have much dramatic subtlety. The unnecessary death of the pilot right at the beginning was frustrating and turned me off immediately. And as for the fanatical reverend with reefer madness...well, that was just plain silly. The one aspect of the story that I did find somewhat interesting was the gunman Ham's ambiguous loyalties, and the secretive dialogue that went on between Ham and Torres. It's the only thing that kept me from turning off. Whereas the reverend was pretty much a one-note character, Ham's character did suggest more subtlety and depth and I wondered what he might do next. That, plus Torres' general likeability and ingenuity, kept me listening despite my dislike for the overall story.

Jercs Soltes

I heard this one a few months ago. Not one of my favorite RMTs, but I thought the dialogue of Robert Dryden's pot-worshipping "Reverend" was hilarious, even though he was also idolatrous and an over-the-top caricature to boot.


Though I enjoyed this program, I don't think I could list it as one of my favorites. The reason I found the play interesting has less to do with the acting or writing and more to do with world events that preceeded this program. Remember that back in 1978, the Reverend Jim Jones woke us up to the potential of a cult when he led his followers to death in Guyana. This program reminded me of this incident because it involved both a plane and a religious fanatic. I recall that a congressman and his delegation where gunned down when boarding a small aircraft after investigating the commune in Guyana. Also, in 1979 we all remember the American citizens that were taken hostage in Iran after religious fundamentalists assumed power. With these two world events (both with a tone of religious fanatacism) on the minds or in the subconscious of many of us at the time this play was written, I wonder if the author was influenced to write this story.


This show was okay. I probably shouldn't have listened to it with the lights out because I caught myself falling asleep a couple of times (or, rather, waking up and realizing the program was still going). It almost seemed a little too realistic with the threat of terrorism in the skies that we're concerned with today. I prefer the other styles of stories over this type.

Allister L.

I didn't think this was CBSRMT's best effort, and like Steve, I too prefer tales of supernatural or macabre. This story, to me, seemed destined to an ending with a moral - it had numerous opportunities to curve or bend the plot and characters in more mysterious ways, but it consistently took the straight road. So I assume the author was very clear on the direction of plot and character. I think Vgarci is on the right trail looking at the events of the recent past prior to this story. With the the failed U.S. attempt to rescue the Iranian hostages (religious extremist) occurring just a couple of months prior to this show, maybe it was intended as a "good news" kind of story, and as I recall, we could have used one about then. Looking back, I cannot recall many CBSRMT stories that were directly ripped out of current headlines - most danced around the "core" of a story. I know it was supposed to be fiction, not "reality" radio, but that got me thinking about true stories that would have made interesting RMT fare. Here are a few I can remember that should have been made into RMT stories: 1. Jim Jones "People's Temple" story - Could have been an interesting character play demonstrating a powerful man's plummet into paranoia. (Thanks Vgarci!) 2. The "Zodiac" killer - classic whodunit with an occult twist. 3. Three Mile Island - Oops, massive radiation without a bomb? 4. Patricia Hearst kidnapping/SLA involvement 5. DB Cooper's hijacking - an open ended whodunit. 6. I'd add more, but the '80s have fogged my rear view. Maybe a few (or all) have been done by CBSRMT - I'll have to defer to those of you in the know. If so, let me know, I'd love to listen.

Paul Boggs

The real-life world events you mentioned would have made great CBSRMT plots. Let me add a few events to your list (pardon me for being off topic!!): 1. Son of Sam murders in NY 2. Apollo 13 3. The hostage situation at the Munich Olympics 4. The wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald

A. Miles

I just listened to this one driving back from LA last weekend. I've heard it several times before. I always thought that the script was taken from the news stories at the time. It was also extremely predictable. That being said, I liked it. I appreciate the real life dramas along with all of the other tales. Not everything can be mystery and macabre. The only question I had was how the Reverend got 6000 feet of "war surplus" steel matting to that remote part of the jungle, then cleared the space for it, then camouflaged his marijuana farm. Granted, you really don't have to hide it if there is no one looking I guess. The co-pilot being killed was necessary I thought to show that the Reverend meant business. It also allowed the conversation between the Rev and the pilot to take place and allowed some character development. Seems to me SAR would launch a more thorough search than the show displayed. But, this it is now the 21st century, not the 70's. I wonder.

Roland Abot

I enjoyed the story. I thought the characters were strong and well developed. It had an element of "Reefer Madness" as did all mainstream media in the 1970s. I, too, usually prefer the supernatural stuff. But when an action thriller is well written, I enjoy it and I enjoyed this one. Did anyone else have visions of Reverend Jim of "Taxi"?


You nailed it! Although I would throw a little bit of John Houseman (Paper Chase) in there too.


I liked the story. It fits in very well with my fear of flying. And I have to add, I turned to this episode after finding nothing but garbage on the tv. It is truly a joy to know that some serious drama can be found here. Thanks to all for a great website and the selection of an enjoyable program!


I do not necessarily need supernatural, but what I look for is a good ironic twist...preferably one I don't see coming. This one was okay. I was able to follow the storyline, but it did not twist and turn as much as others. It had a good cast and was well performed, but I didn't get into the story as much.


i thought this one was ok. even though there were plenty of times the story could have twisted or turned it still kept me interested. the all-too-real plot made a good change from the supernatural. "Revenge is not sweet" is another in the same vain but a bit more ironic. the acting and production were up to the usual standards. the story kind of hinged on what the hired gun was going to do. was he in it only for the money no matter what? the fanatic shooting the co-pilot early on added to the drama. did the co-pilot even say any lines? i can't remember. all in all not one of my favorites but topical.


For another and certainly higher quality tale of suspense at 30,000 feet, tune in TERROR IN THE AIR (also by Ian Martin) in which Robert Dryden plays character with a decidedly different intent than his antagonist here in SIERRA ALPHA 638. - JUROR #4


I agree with Lanie. Robert Dryden as a whacked out, high-jacking, cult leader who calls himself 'Reverend Joy' was great! His references to marijuana - the focus of his religious movement - as 'God's herb' and 'our soul-food' had me laughing out loud. You could tell that Robert Dryden was having a lot of fun with this character. I listen to Mystery Theater on my MP3 player as I drift off to sleep at night. 'Sierra Alpha 638' is starting to grow on me. All of the characters are great. So is the dialogue. 4 stars out of 5 - Juror #4.

Juror #4

I rate this episode ★★★★☆ for GOOD. Not often do you hear a mystery story involving Marijuana. Ian Martin's Drama-Mystery was unique, but not suspenseful. Predictable, I should say, because I knew the villain wasn't going to get away with his plan alive. SPECIAL NOTE: when the characters mention Marijuana in the Bible, they're referring to Genesis 1:12. The title of this story works. Another way to title this, would just be "Sky Jack." Sound effects of the airplane soaring, cockpit door, radio frequency, howling wind, plane landing, passengers murmuring, footsteps, doors, the gun shots, and radar beeping were on the mark in every scene. The music tunes were on the button, especially the music track at the 29:07 mark where the plot thickens. In our Host's Prologue, E.G. Marshall brings up the top of shuttle planes, hinting this story is about flying. In ACT-1, he explains the average routine of the airplane known as "Sierra Alpha 638" that travels from El Paso to Mexico City. In ACT-2, he goes deep into the story about the ugly specter of Anarchy where Sky Jackers, Terrorists, Mobs, Religious Fanatics, and Cynics do absurd things for their causes. In ACT-3, after reaching its pleasant climax, E.G. Marshall gives us the Resolution: the minor villain goes to prison, the drugs were destroyed, Sierra Alpha 638 gets back on its regular flight path, and our main heroes get engaged. In his Epilogue, our Host explains what are the chances of being sky jacked. Now onto our cast: Robert Dryden (as Reverend Joy and Commander Bill Shane), Russell Horton (as Captain Mike Torrenz and Lieutenant Doug Breck), Diana Kirkwood (as Anita Silvera), and Ray Owens (as Ham Jesson and Harvey Combs.) ANOTHER SPECIAL NOTE: Himan Brown plays the role of Santa Rosa Center. Big props to our male actors who each played 2 roles. And kudos to Diana Kirkwood. Even though she had 1 role to play, she did an amazing job all the way through. Tune in to this one if you're into mystery tales involving airplanes. Plus, this episode has a nostalgic commercial about the "Diet Pepsi Sweepstakes." Until next time…pleasant dreams. =0)


This is an interesting mystery especially in the era when we had the Airport movies and the first Airplane movie. But is it just me, but the ending doesn't make any sense. Spoiler alert following. First a trivial matter. E.G. Marshall in the introduction says Sierra Alpha 638 is carrying 72 passengers. About 3 times in the episode Captain Mike Torres says he has to care for 73 passengers plus the "country" stewardess. Maybe Mr. Marshall deducted the stewardess as being crew not a passenger? But then the Reverend, Ham and his two other gunmen were passengers, and the Captain isn't worried what happens to them so he really has to worry about 4 less passengers or 69 passengers. But on-wards to the ending, Spoiler, if the experienced Syndicate gunman Louis all had to do was to sit beside Anita and watch her, quote, "the entire time", then why would he let her get up, turn on the emergency beacon, make hot coffee, and take it into the cockpit unguarded? No explanation of what happened to Louis was given. The only thing I can figure is that it was edited for time, and the writer wanted the happy ending to end with the tray of hot coffee to mirror the tray of coffee that started the beginning of the hijacking.

D.C. Klinkensmit

Puzzle number 2, why does your plot summary say the marijuana pickup is in a desert in California? E.G. Marshall said the spot was somewhere in the Northwest of the Sierra Madre Occidental Range in Mexico. Considering that the plane took off in El Paso, going south a bit before turning west, they'd more likely be in southern New Mexico or Arizona if the Sierra Madre extended that far, but the story made it appear that this was indeed a Mexican desert.

D.C. Klinkensmit

So the passengers were left behind. Whay did they drink the "poisoned" water mentioned by the Reverend???!!!


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