A heart-in-your-throat story of a small commercial plane headed for a crash landing.
Atlantic Southeast Airways Flight 529 wasn’t in the air long when a loud explosion called passengers’ attention to the left wing, where the engine had been shredded and was now wreaking havoc on the plane’s stability (an investigation later showed that a propeller blade had broken, throwing the whole engine out of balance). Pomerantz (Journalism/Emory Univ.; Where Peachtree Meets Sweet Auburn, 1996) takes readers through the ensuing nine-plus minutes as the plane rapidly, but never wildly out of control, lost altitude. There were 29 people on the flight and, through interviews with those who survived, plus material from the National Transportation Safety Board, rescue personnel, doctors, and lawyers, the story is reassembled in suspenseful detail. Edgy paragraphs jump between the thoughts and actions of the passengers and the three-person crew. A suitable amount of biographical detail showing that these were everyday folk headed to Gulfport, Mississippi, from Atlanta—engineers, teachers, a sheriff, a dockmaster, a minister—invites readers to identify, and they will. First the plane shudders, then stabilizes, then violent tremors hit. One man is wondering how bad it is when he looks at a passenger with a window seat: “He’s got a better view than I do and he’s got tears in his eyes.” The plane never makes it to the airport, landing in a hayfield at 138 miles per hour, bouncing, spinning, and breaking apart. Just when you think the worst is over, it gets worse, with a fire burning at 1,800 degrees. The escape from the flames is simply terrifying. The crash investigation and the follow-up on the survivors allow readers to let muscles loosen and blood return to their knuckles.
Unlike the pilots of ASA 529, Pomerantz is in control all the way in this spellbinding and horrifying death ride.