In May of 1999 I had the good fortune of being hired as a pilot for a major airline. I was a happy camper. Flying for a major airline had been a goal of mine ever since I first started flying. My initial training included several weeks of ground school followed by a full week of flying in the simulator.
While in ground school, during emergency procedures training, I was required to don a life vest and jump into a pool. I had put on and inflated life vests before, but I never had to jump into a pool with one on. It made you think about what it would be like to have to do it for real.
Later that day we watched a video concerning an actual ditching of a DC-9. It had all the earmarks of a boring training video: crudely drawn graphics, cheesy music, and a monotone narrator. But this video wasn’t boring. This was a story full of drama.
That night when I got home I searched the Internet hoping to find a book about this accident. Surely someone had to have written a book. But there was no book. I put the story aside and spent the next several weeks concentrating on finishing my training.
It wasn’t long after I completed my training that I decided to do a little more research on the ditching story. In less than an hour on the Internet I was able to track down the captain of the flight. I contacted him and was shocked to learn that he had not piloted another aircraft since the accident. He told me a few details about the ditching and rescue which piqued my interest even further.
It was around this time that I read The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger. I loved the book. I knew from my research that the story of the DC-9 ditching was every bit as compelling as the one in The Perfect Storm. Additionally, my story had survivors. The crew of the Andrea Gail didn’t survive to tell their story. Sebastian Junger had to recreate events that may or may not have happened.
I still wasn’t convinced that I should be the one to tell this story. I felt qualified to tell it. I was a professional pilot with several thousand hours in an aircraft similar to the one that ditched. I had also spent eight years as a regular contributor to Professional Pilot magazine writing on various aviation topics. But this wasn’t going to be an easy project. It had more characters than most stories: the flight crew, the cabin crew, the passengers, rescuers, investigators, airline personnel, and a host of other important participants such as the flight controllers. And tracking down these people thirty-plus years after the accident wasn’t going to be a simple task.
What really set the ball in motion is when I discovered that there were two little girls on the flight who didn’t survive. I was never able to track down any of the family members, including their mother who did survive the accident. From speaking with others on the flight, though, I knew that the girls were between the ages of three and five years old.
My wife and I had lost a daughter six-and-a-half-weeks after birth due to complications from a congenital diaphragmatic hernia. Anyone who has lost a son or daughter will tell you that they continue to age in your mind. My daughter would have been almost three years old at the time I was contemplating writing the book. So I asked her. She told me to write the book. So I did.
You can visit his website at http://www.emiliocorsetti.com/.