One Sentence Synopsis
True story of a 1970 airline ditching in the Caribbean and the efforts to rescue those who survived.
One Hundred Word Synopsis
On May 2, 1970, a DC-9 jet departed New York’s JFK international airport en route to the tropical island of St. Maarten. The flight ended four hours and thirty-four minutes later in the shark-infested waters of the Caribbean. The subsequent rescue of survivors involved the Coast Guard, Navy, and Marines. In this gripping account of that fateful day, author Emilio Corsetti puts the reader inside the cabin, the cockpit, and the rescue helicopters as the crews struggle against the weather to rescue the survivors who have only their life vests and a lone escape chute to keep them afloat.
Two Hundred and Fifty Word Synopsis
On May2, 1970, ALM 980 departed New York’s JFK international airport with fifty-seven passengers and a crew of six. The destination was the tropical island of St. Maarten. It was a perfect spring day with partly cloudy skies and a temperature of 64 degrees. In the Caribbean the story was quite different; thunderstorms plagued the region. By the time ALM 980 approached St. Maarten the weather had deteriorated to the point where the crew was forced to divert to San Juan, Puerto Rico. Shortly after the crew began their diversion word came that there was a break in the weather. The captain made the fateful decision to try and land at St. Maarten despite having reached his minimum fuel status. Forty-five minutes later, after three failed landing attempts, the plane ran out of fuel en route to its alternate and was forced to ditch in the shark-infested waters of the Caribbean. Twenty-three of the sixty-three passengers and crew did not survive. It was at the time, and remains, the only open-water ditching of a commercial jet. The subsequent rescue of survivors involved the Coast Guard, Navy, and Marines. In this gripping account of that fateful day, author Emilio Corsetti puts the reader inside the cabin, the cockpit, and the rescue helicopters as the crews struggle against the weather and dwindling daylight to rescue the survivors who have only their life vests and a lone escape chute to keep them afloat.
Five Hundred Word Synopsis
At the heart of 35 Miles From Shore is a dramatic aircraft ditching and rescue. Equally compelling are the stories of the individuals who were involved in this tragedy.
In laying out the events that would ultimately lead to the first and only open-water ditching of a commercial jet, the story begins with two airline executives with similar backgrounds and goals.
Steedman Hinckley is the charismatic president and CEO of Overseas National Airways (ONA). He is an innovator who starts his airline during the nascent stages of jet travel. He foresees an airline that is involved in every aspect of the burgeoning leisure travel market – the airfare, the hotel, and the cruise. But like so many airline executives before and since, he grows his company too fast and eventually falls victim to a slowing economy and fierce competition.
Unaffected by the turmoil in the U.S. airline industry is the small Caribbean airline headed by Octavio Irausquin. Like his counterpart in the U.S., Octavio is a shrewd businessman eager to capitalize on the growing demand for leisure travel. He is particularly interested in flying a route from the island of St. Maarten, part of the Netherlands Antilles, to New York. But Octavio lacks an aircraft capable of flying the route. So he proposes an agreement with ONA in which ONA will supply the aircraft and flight crew while his airline, ALM, will supply the flight attendants.
Despite many obstacles with regulators and unions, the New York-St. Maarten flights finally begin in January 1970. The early flights are closely monitored. Both airlines know that the route is at the extreme range of the DC-9. As a deadline approaches for installing an extra fuel tank – a fuel tank that would alleviate any possible fuel concerns — a decision is made to delay the installation of the tank so as not to disrupt service during the peak travel season.
On May 2, 1970, ALM 980 departs JFK for St. Maarten. On board are fifty-seven passengers and a crew of six. The captain of the flight is a domineering and authoritative pilot who can be intimidating in the cockpit. His first officer is making only his second flight after having been fired and then reinstated. Also in the cockpit is a navigator, an intellectual whose presence on the flight has more to do with union politics than any real need for his specialized skills. In the back of the cabin are two flight stewards and one stewardess. They are employed and trained by ALM. The stewardess, Margareth Abraham, is engaged to be married and is making her last trip for ALM.
As the passengers glance out at a featureless ocean none can imagine the fate that awaits them. Equally unaware of what lay ahead are a number of rescuers who will soon be thrust into a battle against the weather and dwindling daylight in an attempt to rescue the survivors.
The story, however, doesn’t end with the rescue of forty survivors. In the days and months following the accident, the effects of the tragedy on the individuals involved are examined. Lives are affected in very profound ways. The repercussions of what took place on that fateful day resonate still today.