Bear with me for a moment; I know that this is based on a movie scene, but there's a real question at the end.
Early in the 1995 movie The Net, there's a scene where a programmer is flying their Cessna at or near dawn, approaching the destination airport. This is a night flight, so it would presumably be an IFR flight with all of what that means, or rather meant in the mid-90s. We get to hear some communication between the pilot and ATC:
(pilot) Burbank tower, Cessna seven-three-nine-Mike-Bravo, intercepting approach course, ILS runway eight.
(ATC) 39 Mike Bravo, we've lost radar contact. Say your position and altitude.
(pilot) Just passing the middle marker at 1300 feet.
(ATC) 39 Mike Bravo, that's a negative. Verify your position and check your instruments.
(pilot) All normal, for crying out loud, you must be able to see my lights.
(ATC) That's a negative. Execute a missed approach immediately. Contact approach control on one-two-four point five.
A moment later,
the airplane crashes into what appears like it could be power station chimneys, and turns into a fireball, killing the pilot.
That ATC exchange has always bothered me. I can see a few things that feel obviously wrong:
- It seems awfully late, especially in IFR towards a big airport (assuming that's Hollywood-Burbank, which goes nicely with a later in-movie statement that this happened "outside L.A."), to contact ATC only by the time you are well into the final approach.
- If this is an IFR flight, shouldn't the pilot be following a filed flightplan, and wouldn't someone notice if the aircraft strays too far from its intended course and at least ask the pilot what's going on then rather than wait until it is well into populated or industrial areas? (Note: I can't tell from the movie if the plane supposedly has a transponder or not.)
- By the time of passing the middle marker, shouldn't the pilot have the runway clearly in sight and at the very least be lining up with it, if not already be fully lined up with it? This is in moderate darkness, but it doesn't appear to be in otherwise difficult conditions; no visible fog, for instance, even in aircraft-exterior shots.
If someone wants to comment on the above as well, feel free to. However, my main question is this: if this situation were to somehow develop in real life, then is the phraseology realistic? Would ATC say that they have "lost" radar contact? Since the aircraft is obviously in the wrong place by that time, it would seem like they should never have had radar contact in the first place. In such a situation, I (as a non-pilot) would expect ATC to request an ident, possibly verifying the transponder code as well.