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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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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I like to learn so I enjoy picking up nonfiction audiobooks from time to time. 35 Miles From Shore tells the true story of the “ditching and rescue of ALM Flight 980” along with the company and the pilots’ backstory leading up to that fateful day.
My best friend is really into planes — pretty much any kind of plane you can think of he likes from little prop planes to big fighter jets. So I picked this book up because I wanted to chat with him about it and maybe even recommend him a new book to listen to. I was right because 35 Miles From Shore was a really interesting, well researched, and incredibly told story.
You can tell that Emilio Corsetti III is a pilot too since there are details in this book that no normal human would know or understand. Thankfully Corsetti was able to write these things out in a way that a normal non-aviation person could understand.
Sure, if you’re not into planes (or scared of plane crashes) I would probably avoid this book. And obviously, if you’re not a non-fiction fan maybe steer clear. But, for a non-fiction book, there were parts of it that Corsetti was able to write like he was writing a fictional tale. Combine that with the overwhelming amount of knowledge that this book has — any aviation or airplane crash fans will find a gem in this story.
Corsetti weaves a tale full of detail, descriptions, and woe in the telling of the crash of ALM Flight 980.
The narration of 35 Miles From Shore was done by Fred Filbrich who I thought did a really nice job. He was able to walk me through a story with lots of detail and made it easy to listen to.
I received a free copy of this book. It has not affected my review of my opinion.
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