Breakdowns in personal relationships and the possibility of lapses in judgment by those at the controls of high-tech jetliners provide some engrossing conflicts in a first-rate debut novel from pilot Casey, now a captain with American Airlines. Nation Air Lines Flight 555 is bound from New York to Paris on a stormy night when Captain Hugo Price, confronted with indications of an engine problem and reports of turbulent weather over the North Atlantic, makes a command decision to take the jetliner back to JFK. On its final approach, however, Flight 555 slams into the rain-swept runway from an altitude of 50 feet, and 45 of 192 passengers lose their lives. Seriously injured himself, Hugo has plenty of time to reflect on whether the fatal accident was at least partially his fault. He also ponders a failed marriage to the vindictive Lydia, and the agreeable romance he's having with Sarah McClure, who was serving as his first officer the night of the wreck. Meantime, federal investigators are delving into the causes of the crash while a host of interested parties—the carrier, its vendors, Hugo's union, regulators, and ground personnel—maneuver to limit their liabilities. Although absorbingly detailed testimony at a formal NTSB inquiry suggests that an unusual mechanical failure and wind shear were the principal reasons for the crackup, Hugo's private affairs are subjected to indecently close examination; in the wake of the hearing, the FAA grounds him for six months on a technicality. Shortly before his suspension is to end, though, he satisfies Nation's chief pilot that he's fit to fly again during a dramatic simulator session. Concurrently, he endures yet another proceeding, one that makes hateful Lydia the ex-Mrs. Price and allows Hugo to make a fresh start with Sarah. A smooth flight of fancy for Casey, who displays a real flair for portraying mistake-prone adults facing the consequences of their actions in the air and on the ground.
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