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Twenty-five years after the catastrophe, a dramatic and extraordinarily rare 360-degree view of the crash of a fully loaded jumbo jet.
As hundreds of rescue workers waited on the ground, United Airlines Flight 232 wallowed drunkenly over the bluffs northwest of Sioux City. The plane slammed onto the runway and burst into a vast fireball. The rescuers didn't move at first: nobody could possibly survive that crash. And then people began emerging from the summer corn that lined the runways. Miraculously, 184 of 296 passengers lived. No one has ever attempted the complete reconstruction of a crash of this magnitude. Drawing on interviews with hundreds of survivors, crew, and airport and rescue personnel, Laurence Gonzales, a commercial pilot himself, captures, minute-by-minute, the harrowing journey of pilots flying a plane with no controls and flight attendants keeping their calm in the face of certain death. He plumbs the hearts and minds of passengers as they pray, bargain with God, plot their strategies for survival, and sacrifice themselves to save others.
Ultimately he takes us, step-by-step, through the gripping scientific detective work in super-secret labs to dive into the heart of a flaw smaller than a grain of rice that shows what brought the aircraft down. An unforgettable drama of the triumph of heroism over tragedy and human ingenuity over technological breakdown, Flight 232 is a masterpiece in the tradition of the greatest aviation stories ever told.
An Amazon Best Book of the Month, July 2014: Twenty five years ago this month, a United Airlines flight from Denver to Chicago burst into a fireball and crashed in a cornfield outside of Sioux City, Iowa. It was one of the worst plane disasters in history--but it could have been worse. Of the 296 people on board, 184 survived. In his very long and gripping Flight 232: A Story of Disaster and Survival, journalist Laurence Gonzales takes us through the moments before and after the crash (as best remembered by those survivors and observers on the ground). He also goes back through records, scientific documents, and his own experience as a pilot and aviation reporter to piece together what went wrong with the jetliner that was as majestic (and, ultimately, doomed) as the Titanic. (The last third of the narrative delves into the tiny, microscopic flaw that likely brought the plane down.) As you might expect, there was plenty of terror on Flight 232, but what is surprising is how much inspiring behavior Gonzales discovered there as well--flight attendants who truly did put the passengers’ needs first, crew members whose quick thinking probably made the crash less devastating than it would have been, not to mention the plain dumb luck in evidence, as well--at least one woman moved out of first class at the last minute. Her original seat was eviscerated; she survived. This is a hard book to read because it addresses some of our worst fears and some we’d never even thought of (apparently, the blue water in the toilets on planes can leak out, freeze and get stuck, as ice, to the outside of the plane). But it is also a story of survival, a tale of science, of heroism and of faith. --Sara Nelson
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