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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on November 15, 1999
Format: Paperback
Frankly, I was disappointed. The idea behind the book - to publish the content of the CVR tapes of major aircraft accidents - is a good one. However, this is a specialized topic, and MacPherson simply does not have the specialist knowledge to properly edit the recordings. As a result, there are errors. Some are minor - e.g., the fuel quantity for ValuJet 592 is given as 2.300 pounds for the 1000 kilometer flight from Miami to Atlanta. Others are not - e.g., the crash of Delta 1141, which is generally accepted to have been caused by the crew failing to set the flaps, is attributed to fuel imbalance. As a result, much of the crucial tape sequence of the crew making their final preparations for takeoff is edited out by MacPherson. On the plus side, editing is necessary to make the book accessible to the general reader, and it certainly does that. MacPherson thus succeeds in making the drama - and quite often the heroism - of flight crews suddenly caught in terrifying circumstances accessible for everyone. I rate the book as recommendable for the general reader, but unsatisfactory for aviators.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on May 15, 2000
Format: Paperback
Some of these transcripts are truly gripping, but the book suffers from two fatal flaws:
First, the transcripts seem arbitrarily edited. Some transcripts have a long amount of dialogue included before things go wrong that have no relation to what follows. Others are incomplete and leave out a lot. For example, PSA Flight 182 is cut off right after the midair and leaves out the entire sequence of the crew heroically attempting to get their aircraft under control If you've heard the whole thing, you wonder if they had had more altitude or weren't in landing configuration, if they might not have been able to pull it off. The final "Goodbye, Mother" tears you apart. It seems these transcripts were just thrown together.
The other problem is that while the Editior may be a fine reporter, he doesn't know much about aviation, and some of his attempts to explain what is going on are misleading or inaccurate. For example, his explanation of what "Break" means in a radio transmission when he's attempting to interpret what's going on at that moment is wrong.
This is an interesting book, but it could have been a lot better with a little work.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on January 4, 2005
Format: Paperback
I have never thought of myself as a morbid kind of guy, but for some reason I really enjoy books on airline incidents. I think it is all the very real life or death drama that is part of each of the events. With that being said I have read any number of these type of books over the years and have come to expect a certain amount of detail with each one. I found that my expectations were not met with this book. The format of the book is primarily the actual cockpit voice recordings with a little bit of detail at the start and end of the sequence to set the stage. The author also inserts a few comments here and there to help the reader to determine what is going on.

What I came away with in the book was a feeling that it was just an average attempt. The author did present some interesting and not very well reported on incidents as well as some of the more famous. It was just that he did not put in a lot more effort past the editing. The comments he did make about the crashes or near crashes were somewhat shallow. The book did not promise a full blow investigation on each crash, but I would have liked a bit more then just a three sentence explanation and the death toll. And given that there were so many different aircraft involved I would have liked some consistent basic info on each of the aircraft involved in the reported events. And would I be considered greedy if I would ask for a few photos?

Overall I found the book to be average. The cockpit voice recordings are at times dramatic and the actual events are interesting to read about. It was just that so much more could have been done to make the book a more complete account of these accidents that I finished the book a bit disappointed. IF this is your first book on the topic then it is probably a nice starting point.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon March 6, 2004
Format: Paperback
It's simply amazing to read what happens in the cockpit when things go wrong. If you like to watch "Wings" on Discovery, you'll enjoy this book. In fact, many of the accidents in the book have been the subject of such series as "Crisis in the Sky" (the Sioux City incident, most notably). To read the unabridged transcripts is an educational (and emotional) treat.
It's almost cliche to say so, but the reactions of the pilots encompass the range of human emotion--from panicked to noble to unbelievably calm. The accidents themselves run the gamut from abrupt and unexpected to shockingly inevitable. While all are disturbing to some degree, the transcript from the Soviet shootdown of Korean Airlines flight 007 is particularly wrenching, and never fails to elicit a tear. "The Black Box" is, in a word, fascinating.
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on December 8, 1999
Format: Paperback
The Black Box: All-New Cockpit Voice Recorder Accounts of In-Flight Accidents was an incredible book that dealt with human tragedy, heroism in the face of death, the frailty of human life and the sad reminder of human fallability. I read this book sometimes with a heavy heart, sometimes with a sense of relief and always with the knowledge that anyone can experience an aviation disaster; not just "someone else". The stories related in this book were explicit, and I think that is the only way they should be represented since this lends to a feel of 'being there' in the cockpit with the crew. On an emotional level, this book literally made me cry. I thought of all the people who lost their life in these disasters, and I wondered what they were thinking when they knew the plane was in trouble or going down. It was a sadness for them; for what could have been. For plans and hopes and dreams that literally and metaphorically went up in flames. I finished this book with a heavy heart and an undefineable sadness that still haunts me even now. Read this book, but be prepared to be emotionally drained and to spend some time contemplating your own mortality.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on October 25, 2005
Format: Paperback
I suspect the reviewers who were looking for excruciating details are more of the anorak/spotter/enthusiast persuasion than certificated fliers. Personally I found many of the transcripts contained lessons that will certainly follow me into the cockpit. The CVR transcripts also show a level of professionalism and skill that I think the flying public is by and large oblivious of.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on March 14, 2002
Format: Paperback
A very compelling, and somewhat greusome book listing transcriptions from various Cockpit Voice Recorders (CVR) taken from airplane crashes, and mishaps. If you can stomach it, you'll read it from cover to cover in one sitting. But at the same time, you may wish you had not.
As to the presentation, a writer could approach this subject from two ways: Either from a journalist approach - sort of like what you'd read in the paper, describing the mishap, and quoting the CVR to pinpoint highlights. Or to approach it simply as an editor, and publish the actual CVR transcripts verbatim. MacPherson's book is closer to the latter. He issues a set-up, then a script of the CVR transcription, the actual dialog in the cockpit to the end. And sometimes a commentary at the end. In the back of the book is a glossary of terms that helps. The positive of this is that the absolute reality if it really hits home. The negative is that it's so clinical, it's often hard to read as a result, and a lot of readers may have preferred some more analysis or commentary from the author to at least explain the situations better, even if left somewhat to speculation and interpretation, even guesswork, from the author. Readers don't mind this, as long as the author admits the speculation.
I do have two other criticisms, I have read some CVR transcripts in the past, and actually heard some actual CVR recordings (search the web), and he makes at least two errors. One on the PSA 182 flight, leaving out three lines of dialog of importance, as another reader noted. He also mis-interprets important dialog in the heroic UAL 232, when Hayes and Fisch coverse at the very end, "left throttle, pull em off", and "I can't pull em off, that's what's turning you". This is the perfect example where an educated editor could have helped describe what was going on when these men were conversing in such a crunch situation.
None the less, the book is riveting, and few books are as compelling as this one. But I say that with caution, as this is not an easy book to read, and you will likely feel queasy for some time after reading it.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on August 14, 2006
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
If you spent any time reviewing CVRs, then there is nothing new in this book. Although there are several inaccuracies/mistakes, the worst part of the book is that it gives almost zero insight into what happened in each case. A short one page write-up at the end of each CVR would really help this book.
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11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
This collection of CVR transcripts from air crashes and near misses is a huge waste of money. MacPherson just reproduces excerpts from the transcripts that can be found on the internet at the NTSB website and many other sites. In their complete form and for free. His short paragraphs of explanations of the incidents involved add nothing to the book because it is obvious that the author knows nothing of aviation. If you are a true student of air crashes, look up the complete accident reports on the NTSB website or avsaf.org or a number of other sites. These are free and much more informative. Black Box is a cheap excuse for jounalism. I'd actually give it less than 1 star if I could.[...]
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on July 14, 2005
Format: Paperback
A book of CVR data that is all in the public domain already, edited by a non-aviation writer and littered with basic errors. It would be over-stating the case to say this work is offensive to those who died and their next-of-kin; nonetheless, it adds little of value.

The good and interesting parts of this book are the CVR extracts. If you are interested in CVR data, check the NTSB or AAIB websites. If you want to read well-written accounts of air crashes written by someone who knows a bit about the subject, try MacArthur Job's 'Air Disaster' series.
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