MacGyver is trying to overcome his nervousness with flying by practicing on a flight simulator. Everything goes wrong at once, and he crashes. Pete stops by to tell him that as a joke he sabotaged the flight simulator to malfunction on his friend. When he assures MacGyver that everything wouldn't go wrong at once on a real plane, MacGyver realizes that he wants him to take a flight somewhere. As they go out to the car, Pete explains that the Phoenix Foundation has gone ahead with its pilot program on gangs by taking street kids on probation out to the wilderness to rough it. A social scientist, Tom Cavanaugh, is in charge of the first group of four kids but Pete figures he's in over his head because of his lack of street sense. Since MacGyver wanted to participate in the program, he's eager to help out. Pete warns there isn't much money involved and offers MacGyver a favor. For revenge for the flight simulator prank, MacGyver insists that Peter go with him on his next Colorado kayak race.
Out in the wilderness, Cavanaugh is trying to handle the four teenagers: Ramon, Luther, Tommy, and Gina. Tempers are running high and Ramon refuses to put out his cigarette. Luther attacks him and in the ensuing fight, manages to punch Cavanaugh in the face when he tries to separate them. Cavanaugh tells them they're all going back to jail and Luther warns Ramon to watch his back.
The local pilot, Jenkins, is flying MacGyver out to the site and warns him that the kids are trouble. When MacGyver arrives he sets up a campfire near the teenagers and starts cooking brownies. They smell the food and come to investigate. Gina and Tommy are eager to get some decent food, but Ramon figures MacGyver's with the Man and walks off. Cavanaugh figures Pete is trying to undermine him and tells MacGyver that bribing the kids won't work for long. He resigns and leaves with Jenkins.
That night, Gina flirts with MacGyver, who tells her that nothing is going to happen. It's clear she's trying to make Tommy jealous, even though they're not currently dating, and Ramon gives Tommy grief over it. MacGyver tells Gina to get some wood for the campfire while Luther tries to start another fight with Ramon. MacGyver breaks them up and figures it's going to be a long couple of days until the trip is over.
At the end of the two days, Jenkins is flying everyone out. Ramon unfastens his seat belt and starts taunting Jenkins. Jenkins has a heart attack and Ramon gets slammed back. He grabs at his side while MacGyver tries to land the plane down. They go off course but MacGyver manages to land the plane in a field, although the front landing wheel is ripped open in the process. The radio is destroyed in the crash but everything else is okay. Ramon claims that he's fine, and Luther and Tommy both blame him. MacGyver breaks it up, confirms that Jenkins died, and discovers the man was flying even though he knew he had a heart condition. It's clear that Luther has a grudge against Ramon but neither teen will tell MacGyver what's going on.
MacGyver buries Jenkins and then makes a tent out of parachute. Gina flirts with MacGyver again, irritating Tommy despite his claiming she isn't his girlfriend. That night, MacGyver gets Gina to explain what's going on with Tommy. She finally tells him that Tommy had to choose between her and his gang, and chose his gang. When MacGyver tries to get her to tell him about the bad blood between Ramon and Luther, she accuses him of using her. He tells her she knows that isn't true, and she explains that Ramon killed Luther's brother a year ago. The only eyewitness was Ramon's friend Lorenzo, so Ramon stayed out of jail. He became gang leader thanks to the murder and Luther wants revenge. Tommy angrily asks MacGyver what he's doing to rescue them and snaps at Gina, and MacGyver tells him to back off.
The next morning, MacGyver is getting the teens up and notices that Ramon is favoring his side. Ramon insists that he's fine. MacGyver hears a rattling noise and pulls aside the sleeping Luther's bedroll to discover a rattlesnake. When Luther wakes up, MacGyver tells him to stay still and then uses a coal from the fire to lure the snake out and then pins it and throws it into the woods. When Tommy doesn't wake up, MacGyver checks and discovers the teen has stuff his bedroll with straw and snuck off. MacGyver has the other three teens give their word that they'll stay put and not cause any trouble. Once they reluctantly agree, MacGyver goes after Tommy. When Tommy spots him, he panics and slips down a hill. At the bottom he comes face-to-face with a mountain lion defending its kill. MacGyver uses a log to divert the water from a nearby stream, driving off the mountain lion. He then makes it sound like he thought Tommy had the entire situation under control to protect his self-image, and they head back to camp. As they go, Tommy admits that he wanted to save everyone and took off on his own. He finally admits that he had to choose the gang over Gina because it was the only way he could get away from his abusive father and find somewhere to belong.
At the camp, Gina spots Luther making a crude knife. He tells her not to interfere and then goes after Ramon. Ramon runs through the woods but due to his injured side, Luther soon catches up to him. MacGyver and Tommy get back to the camp and Gina lies about where the others are. MacGyver quickly figures out what's up and runs after them. He gets to Luther just as he's preparing to deliver the final blow. MacGyver tells him he's smart enough to realize what will happen to him if he kills Ramon. Luther drives the knife into the ground by Ramon's head and stalks off, while Ramon finally can't conceal his pain any longer.
At the camp, Luther confronts Gina and tells her she shouldn't have interfered. Tommy comes to her defense, telling Luther that MacGyver figured it out on his own. MacGyver brings Ramon back and has Gina and Tommy bring him tubing and the radio headset from the airplane. As they work, Tommy asks if they can at least be friends and Gina agrees. Making a crude stethoscope, MacGyver determines that Ramon has severe internal injuries and that he won't survive until a search party finds them. He also asks Ramon for the truth about Luther's brother. Ramon doesn't give him a direct answer and MacGyver figures he's lying.
Back in civilization, Pete meets with the authorities and starts organizing a search for the overdue plane.
With time running out for Ramon, MacGyver realizes they have no choice but to fly him out. He starts trimming down a log to use as a front ski to replace the broken landing wheel. He has Tommy and Gina start gathering branches and rocks and assembles a surveyor's sighting device out of the branches and Gina's earrings. Tommy knows a friend who is a surveyor and MacGyver has him measure off 300 yards and mark the distance with the rocks.
MacGyver tells Luther and Ramon his plan. Luther says he's a fool for trying to save Ramon. MacGyver talks about the time he thought a boy in school stole his knife. He punched the kid out, only to find the knife at his house later. MacGyver tells Luther that he might want to get his facts straight. Luther goes to see Ramon, who demands the truth before Ramon dies. Ramon breaks down and admits that he and his friend Lorenzo came across Luther's brother when a junkie killed him. Ramon took credit for the murder to become leader of his gang, and Lorenzo backed him up. Ramon tells Luther to talk to Lorenzo and confirm his story. An angry Luther walks off into the woods to think about the situation.
The search parties have confirmed that the plane is nowhere along the intended flight path. The search coordinator warns that there's a thousand square miles to search but Pete is sure MacGyver will find a way to rescue everyone.
MacGyver has Gina and Tommy dig a trough along the 300 yards they've measured off and then use water from a stream to fill it with mud. Meanwhile, Luther thinks over everything that's happened and has no choice but to accept Ramon's story. He goes back and starts helping Gina and Tommy to make their escape.
MacGyver finishes making the front ski and attaches it to the front landing strut. They position the plane so the ski is in the mud trough and load up Ramon. The others will stay behind while MacGyver gets Ramon to a hospital and sends help back. The teens watch as MacGyver just manages to lift off and head back for civilization.
MacGyver and Pete are at the airfield when the rescue team brings Gina, Luther, and Tommy back. Pete is amazed MacGyver managed to bring them together, and MacGyver admits all they had to do was find a reason to work together.