MacGyver is practicing his light-plane flight skills. He's flying through an ice storm when the carburetor freezes up and… the flight simulator crashes. Pete arrives and tells him he had the technicians rig it to crash. He notes that all of that wouldn't happen in a real plane, and MacGyver realizes he wants him to fly a plane just like that. Pete says he just wants him to ride in one. He explains that the Phoenix Foundation has set up a pilot program with the National Youth Authorities based on gang research. They take street kids out into the wilderness to rough it as part of their probation. There's a social scientist, Tom Cavanaugh, heading it and he has no street sense. MacGyver points out he wanted the job and Pete tells him he's got it, but there's not much money involved. He offers a bonus: anything MacGyver wants. MacGyver asks for Pete to go with him in a Colorado kayak race.
Cavanaugh is trying to deal with the four gang members, including the rebellious Ramon. When Luther tries to stop him, a fight breaks out and Cavanaugh gets sand in his face. Luther punches him and Cavanaugh tells them they're all going back to juvenile. Luther warns Ramon to keep an eye out for him.
The pilot Jenkins flies MacGyver in and warns him that he's getting in over his head and the kids are a handful. Meanwhile, the kids are eating and one of them, Tommy, throws down the food and prepares to leave. They smell brownies cooking over the rise and go to investigate, and find MacGyver cooking for them. Ramon isn't impressed, figuring he's just a pretty face on the Man. Cavanaugh is angry that Pete put someone else in charge and warns that baking brownies won't get him far. That night, Tommy's girlfriend Gina comes over and flirts with MacGyver. Ramon teases Tommy about how his girlfriend is hitting on MacGyver and Tommy insists she isn't his girlfriend. MacGyver sends her to get some wood and she explains that she was born into the gangs and her sister is in prison. Luther is busy picking a fight with Ramon, who goes after him. MacGyver breaks it up but it's a long two days.
As Jenkins flies them out, MacGyver admits that he might have had some success with some more time. Ramon releases his seat belt and starts taunting Jenkins. As MacGyver shoves Ramon back, Jenkins has a heart attack. Ramon is thrown around and injures himself internally. MacGyver tries to bring the plane down. He manages to bring it up over the trees and land in a field. The radio ignites and they put it out, and Ramon insists he's okay. MacGyver confirms that Jenkins is dead and the teens quickly get out of the plane. Luther and Tommy blame Ramon and prepare to go after him, but MacGyver calls them off. He's discovered that Jenkins had a serious heart condition and shouldn't have been flying. Tommy and Luther have a grudge against Ramon but none of them will explain what.
After burying Jenkins, MacGyver breaks up another fight and makes a tent out of a parachute. Gina is impressed and Tommy isn't happy with her coming on to MacGyver. MacGyver tells Luther to come with him and do some spear fishing. That night, they cook and Gina comes on to MacGyver again. MacGyver tells her nothing's going to happen and she starts to stalk off, and he wants to know what it's got to do with Tommy. She explains that Tommy chose her rival gang over her, and doesn't want to say anything else. He tries to get her to tell him about Luther and Ramon but she refuses to be used. MacGyver calls it on her and she explains that Ramon killed Luther's brother a year ago. There were no eyewitnesses so Ramon stayed out of a jail, but he became gang leader on his reputation. Tommy wants to know what MacGyver is doing to get them rescued. When MacGyver tells her to go easy on him, Tommy snaps at him.
The next morning, MacGyver notices that Ramon is favoring his side but Ramon insists he's fine. MacGyver spots a rattlesnake in Luther's sleeping bag. He tells Luther to freeze and puts a hot coal down near the sleeping bag. The rattlesnake crawls out to it and MacGyver pins it with a stick then takes it outside. He comes back inside and discovers that Tommy has slipped away and is trying to hike to get help. MacGyver asks for their word that they'll stay while he goes to find Tommy. They all agree that nothing will happen. MacGyver follows Tommy's trail but when he catches up to him, Tommy panics and slips over a cliff. He finds himself face-to-face with an angry mountain lion defending its kill. MacGyver tells Tommy to avoid eye contact and stay still, and then goes to a nearby stream. Using a hollowed out log, MacGyver redirects the water and scares off the mountain lion, then uses a rope to climb down. He then apologizes to Tommy for helping him, explaining he just wanted to test a theory. As they head back to camp, MacGyver gets Tommy to explain that he hoped to get them all rescued. Tommy says he joined the gang and it's all that he had and the only way he could get away from an abusive father.
Back at camp, Luther is making a crude knife when Gina spots him. He asks where Ramon is and tells her to stay out of the way when he goes after him. Ramon is hiding nearby as Luther comes looking for him. Ramon tries to make a run for it and Luther follows through the woods. When MacGyver and Tommy get back to a camp, she evades MacGyver's questions about where Luther and Ramon are. He figures something is wrong and she tells him that Luther is going to kill Ramon. MacGyver goes after them and finds Luther just in time. He tells Luther to think it through and Luther drives his knife into the ground next to Ramon's head and walks off. Ramon finally admits he's injured. Luther goes back to the camp and confronts Gina for getting involved. Tommy defends her, telling Luther that MacGyver figured it out on his own.
MacGyver gets Ramon back to camp and determines he's suffering from internal injuries. They can't wait for a search party so he has Gina and Tommy collect rubber tubing and a radio headset from the plane. Gina thanks Tommy for coming to her aid and for going for help. As they go back, Tommy suggests that they try and be friends and she admits that she'd like that. As MacGyver tends to Ramon, he asks if Ramon killed Luther's brother. When Ramon hedges his answer, MacGyver insists he doesn't believe it. He then makes a crude stethoscope out of the rubber tubing and the radio headset.
Pete meets with the local authorities and starts a search.
MacGyver determines that Ramon has a punctured spleen and will die without immediate hospital treatment. He starts to work on the plane, using a hollowed out log as a front ski to replace the broken landing wheel. Luther refuses to help but Gina and Tommy start gathering rocks and branches. MacGyver builds a sighting tool out of branches and Gina's earrings. Tommy knows how to use it and MacGyver has Gina measure off 300 yards. MacGyver tells Ramon what the situation is, and Luther warns MacGyver that he's a fool for trying to save Ramon. MacGyver talks about the time in school he thought another boy stole his knife, only to discover he left it on his desk at home, and tells Luther to get his facts straight. Luther goes to see Ramon and demand the truth before he dies. Ramon finally admits he didn't do it, but he saw a junkie kill him. Ramon took credit for it and his friend Lorenzo backed him up, and Luther can check with Lorenzo. Lorenzo angrily storms off. Gina and Tommy see him as he walks into the woods and thinks about the situation.
Pete has confirmed that the plane is nowhere near the intended landing site and they went down off course. There's almost no chance they'll be found, but Pete is sure MacGyver will find a way.
MacGyver has Tommy and Gina dig a trough down the intended landing field and then fill it with water to make mud. When Tommy injures himself, Gina uses her gang color bandanna to bind his wound. Meanwhile, Luther thinks over everything that happened and realizes that Ramon is telling the truth. He finally goes to help Gina and Tommy. Meanwhile, MacGyver uses rocks to form a landing ski out of a log. Finally the trough and the front ski are ready. They remove the damaged wheel and attach the new front ski, then get the plane into position. MacGyver prepares to lift off with Ramon, promising the others he'll send help as soon as he's back to civilization. MacGyver starts up the plane and heads down the crude runway. With the other teens cheering him on, he successfully takes off.
Later, the rescue helicopter brings Luther, Gina, and Tommy to the airport where Pete and MacGyver greet them. MacGyver assures them that Ramon will make it and that they did it all themselves once they found a reason to work together.