- Paperback: 240 pages
- Publisher: Smithsonian Books (January 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1588340899
- ISBN-13: 978-1588340894
- Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.6 x 8.7 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 35 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #794,222 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Mystery of Flight 427: Inside a Crash Investigation Paperback – January 17, 2004
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“Bill Adair has done it right.”—USA Today
“An informative and highly readable book, of interest to a wide public in an age when the safety of air travel is understandably on everyone’s mind.”—Wall Street Journal
“A compelling mystery in a book of first-rate journalism.”—Publishers Weekly
“Adair’s patient and sharp reporting has given birth to one of the best books in a highly sensitive category, flight safety.”—Aviation Week & Space Technology
About the Author
Bill Adair covers aviation, national politics, and Congress for the St. Petersburg Times. He has won numerous awards, including the Sigma Delta Chi Award for Washington correspondence.
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Whenever I read about a disaster of this magnitude, I am always concerned about the human tragedy and the stories of the victims and their families. I realize this is not the author's main purpose in the book, but I wish he had spent more time on this aspect of the crash. He chose one victim--Joan Van Bortel, a young woman on a quick trip to a business meeting--to represent the deceased passengers and her husband Brett to represent the surviving families. Their story is told in detail, but I'm not sure why they were chosen. I doubt that they were the most interesting people involved, and they don't appear to be typical of the two groups. Maybe it was just because Brett was available and willing to talk. I had read elsewhere about the Weaver family--a mother, a father, and three children--who were returning from the funeral of a nine-year-old cousin who had died unexpectedly. The relatives probably thought the death of that child was the worst thing that could happen, and then to lose five more family members a few days later is unbelievably tragic. That may have been the saddest part of the crash, but the author gives their story only three sentences. I wanted more.
I liked the section with sixteen pages of photographs showing the major participants in the investigation, the Van Bortels, pieces of wreckage, and especially the views from the cockpit during the 28 seconds when Flight 427 was going down. I wish the author had also included diagrams and maps to show the site of the crash and the locations of various witnesses and places that were mentioned. Diagrams of parts and sections of the plane would also have been useful.
Although I had issues with certain aspects of the book, I found it very enlightening and I enjoyed reading it. I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in the subject matter, including those like me who know nothing about airplanes.
This was a particularly interesting crash to investigate, since the cause was... muddy, as many air crashes are. Usually aircraft accidents and incidents are a chain of problems-- two or three things that combine to cause a catastrophic event-- but in the case of USAir 427, it took a very long time and tens of thousands of investigation hours to get to the root of the accident, which occurred while a Boeing 737 was on final approach into Pittsburgh International Airport on a clear day. The entire accident took 28 seconds, and killed all on board. And while the two magic "black boxes" (actually orange) were recovered immediately, they only provided tantalizing clues-- but not answers.
What I found particularly interesting was the interplay between the NTSB, the FAA, Boeing, US Air, and the Airline Pilots Association (ALPA). The NTSB is trying to find out what caused the crash, so that they could provide recommendations (training, aircraft fixes, etc) to make the industry safer. The FAA is trying to protect their turf, and obviously doesn't want the NTSB to make them look bad. Boeing continues to insist that the crash was a simple matter of pilot error, and their interpretation of the cockpit tapes and the control inputs from the black boxes is a complete 180 from the ALPA, who insists that the rudder had serious issues that caused the crash.
In the end, the "probable cause" is found-- a tail rudder control issue-- based upon clues that popped up in another flight, in another 737, to a different pilot, flying a different aircraft; and in the end, procedure were identified by the NTSB even before the investigation was complete; final conclusion listed the probable cause with language and recommendations to fix the problems.
As to victim family perspectives-- wow. These poor folks could get NO answers, but when they were contacted by the airline, it was done poorly but untrained airline personnel, and in this case, at 2 or 3 am the next morning after the crash. The book follows one victim's surviving husband closely, and it's a insightful and thoughtful treatment of how he was feeling and what he was going through.
Good reading for anyone with an interest in aviation, or for anyone with an interest in how any kind of major accident occurs, is investigated and is explained. It was hard to put down, and I'm delighted to give it five stars.