On May 2, 1970, a DC-9 jet with 57 passengers and a crew of six departed New York's JFK International Airport en route to the tropical island of St. Maarten. The flight ended four hours and 34 minutes later in the shark-infested waters of the Caribbean. It was, and remains, the only open-water ditching of a commercial jet. The subsequent rescue of survivors took nearly three hours and involved the coast guard, navy, and marines. This gripping account of that fateful day recounts what was happening inside the cabin, the cockpit, and the helicopters as the crews struggled against the weather and dwindling daylight to rescue the survivors who have only their life vests and a lone escape chute to keep them afloat.
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This is a very good book. It's fast paced and well written. I enjoy listening and watching shows about airline crashes and disasters, not for the crash itself, but for the cause of the accident and eventual fixes for the cause. As for this accident, it happened before I was born, so this is one that I haven't heard of before. The author did a great job outlining the issues and events that lead up to the accident, the people involved in both the accident and rescue. The narrator did a great job.
I was voluntarily provided this free review copy audiobook by the author, narrator, or publisher.
As I flew into SFO from PHX, I had a new perspective on air travel. I immediately found the life rafts. There were multiple and above the center aisle behind what looked like plastic attic doors. I kneeled and looked under my seat for the life vest. I turned off my audiobook as I listened intently for the instructions on how to inflate the life vest and made sure to get an aisle seat near the front cabin door. I wondered if my head would hit the tray table if I braced for impact. I now knew to wait to inflate my life vest until after I left the plane. I looked intently out the window as we passed over the bay and onto dry land in San Francisco. I could breathe again. This book will change how you travel, make you aware of your surroundings, and bring you one step closer to understanding what really makes for a safe airline and what doesn’t.
Emilio Corsetti III, in 35 Miles from Shore: The Ditching and Rescue of ALM Flight 980, starts with a strong hook, an airplane in the middle of the ocean that no one has come to investigate or pull out of the water because it’s a mile down. How did it get there? Why has it been down there so long? What happened? There are many directions Mr. Corsetti could have gone: a focus on the passengers’ point-of-view, the captain and flight crew’s, or the before and after on shore. He managed to weave all of the pieces together from the history of the airline itself, to the pilot’s backstory, the dramatic event, and the aftermath. While the general recommendation is to start in medias res, in the middle of the action, to create a dramatic beginning, the snapshot of the plane in the ocean was enough to propel a reader into the story and once there, he or she would not be disappointed with the narrative.
The premise is straightforward: Why did this tragedy happen? Emilio Corsetti III elevates the non-fiction genre to detective non-fiction where we learn everything about everyone in such a well articulated and compelling narrative that it doesn’t feel like we are in the classroom. Rather, we feel as if we are hearing the stories from multiple people as if we were the investigators ourselves. Corsetti III breathes life into technical jargon, complex procedural pieces, and turns what the mechanic sees into a vivid graphic through artful word choice and plain language.
The tower dialogues gave the audiobook an authentic theatrical feel more script-like than book. The explanations were so clear such that any bit of minutia or jargon found an explanation. From explaining tunnel vision as cognitive narrowing to the rationales for certain pilot altitude and airspeed choices, throughout the book I felt as if I had a mentor, a coach, teaching me about being a pilot. This is truly a book for anyone, it respects the jargon and speaks to the aviation enthusiast, but it speaks to us on a human level. What is it like to go through such an ordeal? How does a communication breakdown lead to a life-altering mistake? How do different people respond?
Because we are so invested in each character, know they are real; the last half of the book creates a satisfying closure to every thread of the story. It’s a rare author who can teach from the narrative rostrum with such detail as to both educate the reader and leave him looking around and appreciating the humanity in the giant machine of an airplane we take for granted. The irony of hell in a Caribbean paradise will not be lost on any of the readers. Is it worth reading? It’s worth listening right now.
Fred Filbrich, the narrator, does a wonderful job with both the narrative and the dialogue. The book was more than an easy listen; it was one that I tried to fit in the spaces of time at the grocery store and on the way to and from work. Filbrich continue to press page-turning narrative with subtle elevations of his voice, empathetic caresses towards a tragedy, and the straightforward talk as if I was the only person in the room. It is the work of a consummate professional.
Audiobook was provided for review by the author.
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