May is going to be an awesome month of guest bloggers at The Book Connection. We're going to start off with author Emilio Corsetti III, who is a professional pilot and now a debut author. Emilio's first release is a narrative non-fiction title, 35 Miles From Shore: The Ditching and Rescue of ALM Flight 980.
His words are so powerful, that I will quietly bow out and let you read them. Then I'll be back with more information about the book and where you can find it.
The Life Vest
by Emilio Corsetti III
In December of 2000, I decided that I wanted to write a book about an aircraft accident that happened in 1970. The story was full of drama. A plane goes down in the Caribbean in terrible weather with only hours of daylight remaining. It was the Titanic and The Perfect Storm all rolled into one.
I reviewed the official accident reports and spent days reviewing newspaper accounts. I knew, though, that I was going to have to track down as many of the actual participants as possible to get their firsthand accounts. The Internet was invaluable in this process.
In May of 2001, I was ready to start interviewing. I decided to do my first interview on the thirty-first anniversary of the accident. I interviewed one of the rescue pilots. I chose Jim Rylee to interview first because his wife had confided to me that he was in poor health and didn’t have much time left.
Jim and his wife Donna insisted that I stay with them rather than spend the night in a hotel.
The next morning while I was still resting comfortably in the guest bedroom, I heard some rustling overhead. When I finally made it to breakfast, Jim said that he had a surprise for me. I had no idea what to expect. Donna disappeared and returned seconds later holding a life vest. “This is from that night,” Jim said, grinning like someone who had just revealed a long held secret. He told me that after he and his crew had dropped off the survivors in St. Croix they found several life vests inside the helicopter. They also found a few lying on the ramp. The survivors had discarded them as soon as they were safely on dry land. Jim and the other three crewmembers each took a couple life vests home as souvenirs.
Over the years the life vests from that night slowly disappeared after various moves and house cleanings. Jim, however, managed to hold on to one life vest. The rustling I had heard was Donna crawling through the attic in search of the life vest, which had been stuffed in a box that probably hadn’t been opened in twenty years. I stared at the life vest as if I were looking at a thousand-year-old relic.
Jim has since passed away. He never got a chance to read the book. I asked Donna if I could borrow the life vest for my book tour. It arrived a few weeks ago in a FedX box. If I happen to be doing a book signing in your city, stop by and have a look. It’s yellowed and has a bit of mold on it, but it has a story to tell. And so do I.
Synopsis: On May 2, 1970, a DC-9 jet with fifty-seven 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 thirty-four minutes later in the shark-infested waters of the Caribbean. It was at the time, 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. In this gripping account of that fateful day, author Emilio Corsetti puts the reader inside the cabin, the cockpit, and the rescue helicopters as the crews struggle 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.
Excerpt: Tobias and Margareth grabbed their life vests from under the flight attendant jump seats and took their positions in the cabin – Margareth in front and Tobias in the middle. Wilfred used the PA system in the rear of the cabin. Wilfred had had his share of non-routine flights himself. This one, however, he sensed was different. He had seen the navigator holding his life vest. He heard the tension in the voices of the crew members. Still, there was no indication that a ditching was imminent. He proceeded under the assumption that there would at least be a warning should the aircraft actually be forced to ditch. He told the passengers that the plane was running low on fuel and that the captain had requested that they prepare for a possible ditching as a “precautionary measure.” He gave the instructions in English and from memory. He instructed them to not inflate their life vests until they were in the water. There are several reasons for this: An inflated life vest is constraining and could interfere with the person’s ability to exit the aircraft. An inflated life vest is also vulnerable to puncture inside the aircraft. The most valid reason for not inflating the life vest inside the aircraft is that if the cabin were to rapidly fill up with water, the wearer might be unable to reach the exit. The passengers were also told to tighten the straps around their waists, but not too tightly. The rationale behind this policy was to prevent a feeling of constraint. But many passengers were rightfully confused by this instruction. How tight is too tight? Why wouldn’t you want the straps as tight as possible?
Nothing was said about life rafts. Wilfred also failed to mention where the life vests were located. Most passengers knew to look under their seats either from the previous briefing or from the emergency briefing cards. Those who didn’t know where to find their vests quickly observed the other passengers or were assisted by the flight attendants. There was also no attempt made to enlist the help of passengers by placing them in seats where they could help with the launching of life rafts. In Wilfred’s defense, after he made the announcement about the life vests, he was immediately preoccupied with helping passengers. He also had other duties to perform – such as positioning the forward life raft and removing the slide bars from the two front doors. He did what he thought was the most prudent thing to do with the information he had at the time, and that was to get the passengers into their vests as soon as possible.
Purchase your copy of 35 Miles From Shore at Amazon.com
35 MILES FROM SHORE VIRTUAL BOOK TOUR '08 will officially begin on May 1, 2008 and continue all month. If you would like to follow Emilio's tour in progress, visit http://www.virtualbooktours.wordpress.com/. Leave a comment at any of his blog stops and become eligible to win a free copy at the end of his tour! One lucky winner will be announced on his tour page on May 30!
This virtual book tour has been brought to you by: