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Monday, June 15, 2015

Book review: 'Flight 232: A Story of Disaster and Survival' is eye glue

Do not pick up this book unless you have uncommitted hours to read.

On my way to the bed chambers, I made the mistake to stop and unload my bag of library books which included Flight 232:  A Story of Disaster and Survival which had been on the reserve list owing to its popularity, and it is no wonder.

It's a spellbinder, all about the crash of United Airlines Flight 232 on July 19, 1989 in Sioux City, Iowa (and not a book recommended for those who may be skittish about flying).

The mysterious cause of the crash, its discovery and the hunt for missing parts scattered over hundreds of miles read like a "whodunit" with lengthy descriptions and photos.

Of the 296 passengers and crew on board, 184 (or 185) survived.  That any lived is shocking, especially when you see the crash (link below). 

Without its tail-mounted engine, flight controls, and only the pilots' ability to turn the plane right, it crashed on a runway with the largest section of the plane landing in a cornfield where some of the passengers were thrown. When the survivors rose from the ground, one rescuer compared them to ghosts rising from a cemetery, while other rescuers thought they were more helpers who had arrived at the airport to help in the recovery.

The author, Laurence Gonzales, a commercial pilot who obviously knows his stuff, conducted hundreds of interviews (many with survivors) and studied many more documents to present an intricately researched, balanced, hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute description of the flight, its final minutes, and the aftermath. 

The extraordinary skill and experience of the pilots, aided by a flight instructor who happened to be on board, and their abilities to all work together ("crew resource management") resulted in many lives saved. (Perhaps on summer break, elected leaders in Washington could attend a "crew resource management" session(s).)

The harrowing tale follows many of the passengers en route, sketching their life histories and interests, and what happened to them, sometimes years later; however, it is difficult to keep their identities straight and to know, while reading, who lived and who died.  (The book has about everything in it except a map of the route from Denver to Chicago's O'Hare with the detour to Sioux City, and a list of all the passengers and whether they lived.)

Yes, I did skip many of the technical parts (e.g., the first half of Chapter Four), and I tried to overlook the color photographs of the makeshift morgue and caskets lined up in a hall at the airport hangar.  The 1989 practice of identifying the dead by cutting off fingertips and removing jaws has been discontinued. 

See the crash and hear the communications between the control tower and the pilots at, and get ready for a long, but very fast, night.


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