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An unfortunate confluence of circumstances would doom ALM 980.

  • Jan 31, 2010
It has been more than 37 years since ALM flight 980 ran out of fuel and was forced to ditch in the shark-infested waters off the coast of St. Croix in the Carribean.  When one stops to consider the thousands of commercial jet flights that take off and land each and every day all over the world it is all the more remarkable that what took place on May 2, 1970 remains to this day the one and only open-water ditching of a commercial jet in aviation history!  Author Emilio Corsetti III is a both a professional pilot and a gifted writer.  As such, he is a man uniquely qualified to scrutinize the facts surrounding this unfortunate incident that has long since faded from memory.  "35 Miles From Shore:  The Ditching and Rescue of ALM Flight 980" is the remarkable story of what went down on that stormy Saturday afternoon nearly four decades ago.  Clearly this is an incident worth looking into and a story worth telling.  "35 Miles From Shore" is a book that will grab your attention right away and hold your interest until the very end.

It is important to note that the service between JFK in New York and the island of St. Maarten had been inaugurated just a few months earlier in a joint agreement between the official airline of the Netherlands Antilles ALM and the U.S based carrier Overseas National Airways.  Under this arrangement known as a "wet lease" ONA would provide the aircraft, pilot and flight crew and ALM would provide the flight attendants.  Under the terms of the agreement hammered out by the CEO's of the two airlines installation of an extra fuel tank was deemed necessary and this tank was to be installed on the aircraft by no later than April 1st, 1970.  Both ONA CEO Steedman Hinckley and ALM President Ciro Octavio Irausquin were keenly aware that the existing fuel tanks on the DC-9 were probably inadequate for a flight of this distance and left the pilot precious little margin for error. Failure to follow through on this committment would prove to be a major factor in the eventual ditching of this aircraft.  Author Emilio Corsetti III does a workmanlike job of examining this tragedy from a number of different perspectives.  Through a series of interviews with the pilot and crew, passengers, rescuers and investigators Corsetti has been able to cobble together a pretty comprehensive account of just went on that day.  Pilot error was certainly a factor in this tragedy.  In addition torrential rains, gusty winds, extremely poor visibility and heavy seas would all play a major role in the unfolding of this tragedy. All in all, a total of 20 people would lose their lives including stewardess Margareth Abraham.  By all accounts Margareth and the rest of the crew and flight attendants performed heroically in preparing the passengers for what was about to take place. And it goes without saying that the lives of most who were lucky enough to survive would never be the same.  This was especially true for Captain Balsey DeWitt who would never fly again.

I found "35 Miles From Shore: The Ditching and Rescue of ALM Flight 980" to be a well-written and meticulously researched book.  I greatly appreciated the schematic of the aircraft that appears at the beginning of the book.  I found myself referring to it again and again and this greatly enhanced my understanding of what was going on during the flight and in the moments immediately after the plane landed in the water.  "35 Miles From Shore" also includes a 16 page photo gallery featuring 41 pictures which also help to bring these events to life.  This is a book that reads like a novel but the events depicted here are real.   A great book for general audiences and anyone who is interested in aviation.       Recommended.
An unfortunate confluence of circumstances would doom ALM 980. An unfortunate confluence of circumstances would doom ALM 980. An unfortunate confluence of circumstances would doom ALM 980. An unfortunate confluence of circumstances would doom ALM 980.

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Paul Tognetti ()
Ranked #2
I guess I would qualify as a frustrated writer. My work requires very little writing and so since 1999 I have been writing reviews on non-fiction books and anthology CD's on amazon.com. I never could … more
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On May 2, 1970, a DC-9 jet with 57 passengers and a crew of six departed from New York’s JFK International Airport en route to the tropical island of St. Maarten, but four hours and 34 minutes later the flight ended 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 had only their life vests and a lone escape chute to keep them afloat.

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ISBN-10: 0977897109
ISBN-13: 978-0977897100
Author: Emilio Corsetti III
Genre: Aviation
Publisher: Odyssey Publishing
Date Published: April 28, 2008
Format: Hardcover
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