In a straight forward investigative style, Emilio Corsetti III delivers a substantive and thorough examination of the “error-chain” that caused the ditching of ALM Flight 980 on May 2, 1970. Like so many other calamities that end tragically, Corsetti poignantly details how the mentality of corporate profits over the safety and well being of passengers sets off a horrific chain of events.
From the beginning chapters, Corsetti puts us in the minds and board rooms of those responsible for making the decisions that put ALM Flight 980 in Harms way. Though Corsetti is careful not to point out who the true villain is in his gripping tale, his early treatment of ONA CEO and President G. F.Steedman Hinckley clearly delivers a nod.
Hinckley’s driven ambition to create a route from New York to St. Maarten minus a third fuel tank for the sake of maintaining face, casts Hinckley into the dark shadows of aviation history.
Corsetti delivers vivid scenes chapter after chapter. He takes you into the cockpit, into the rafts that carry the surviving passengers, onto the helicopters that dropped the slings and rescue seats as they hovered above the swells of the ocean. Corsetti’s riveting paragraphs are at their best when he immerses the reader into the ditching of the plane and the heroic rescue efforts of the crew and the Coast Guard.
Like Harry Evans, I must admit I suffered a little “cognitive narrowing” from the dizzying amount of characters Corsetti introduces paragraph after paragraph. By the middle of the book, one is so overwhelmed with the constant bouncing from one character to another; it’s hard to concentrate on the task at hand. Corsetti would have been better served if he would have told the story from the perspective of a handful of people – like Balsey Dewitt, who palpably is the most interesting and courageous character in the human drama. Just like fiction, non-fiction must move along and keep the readers attention. I wanted more of Balsey, his life, his emotions, his thoughts and feelings as he humbly did his duty as a professional pilot. In the end, it was his efforts that allowed people the chance to survive.
Still, one cannot come away from this account unimpressed with Corsetti’s talent and his attention for detail. Because of his pen, the ditching and rescue of ALM Flight 980 comes to life, and heroes we never were aware of emerge.