Nine Minutes, Twenty Seconds: The Tragedy and Triumph of ASA Flight 529


In August 1995, twenty-six passengers and a crew of three board a commuter plane in Atlanta headed for Gulfport, Mississippi. Shortly after takeoff they her an explosion and some see a mangled engine lodged against the wing. From that moment, nine minutes and twenty seconds elapse until the crippled plane crashes in a west Georgia hayfield. Gary Pomerantz takes listeners deep into the hearts and minds of the people aboard, each of whom prepares in his or her own way for what may...
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In August 1995, twenty-six passengers and a crew of three board a commuter plane in Atlanta headed for Gulfport, Mississippi. Shortly after takeoff they her an explosion and some see a mangled engine lodged against the wing. From that moment, nine minutes and twenty seconds elapse until the crippled plane crashes in a west Georgia hayfield. Gary Pomerantz takes listeners deep into the hearts and minds of the people aboard, each of whom prepares in his or her own way for what may come.

Ultimately, ninteen people survive both the crash and its devastating aftermath, all of them profoundly affected by what they have seen and more important, what they have done to help themselves and others.

The psychologically illuminating real-life drama about ordinary prople and how they behave in extraordinary circumstances is suprisingly optimistic. In telling the remarkable stories of these twenty-nine men and women, Gary Pomerantz has written one of the most compelling books in recent memory. Nine Minutes, Twenty Seconds speaks as powerfully about our capacity to care for others as it does about the strength of our will to live. This rich and rewarding audiobook will linger in your mind long after you finish listening.

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Editorial Reviews

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The Barnes & Noble Review
While Nine Minutes, Twenty Seconds begins as a gripping account of a tragedy, it quickly becomes a strong celebration of the human spirit. When ASA Flight 529 left Atlanta, Georgia, on August 21,1995, it was bound for Gulfport, Mississippi. There were 29 people on board, a passenger list that was a microcosm of small-town America.

Twenty-nine people, passengers and crew, with 29 complements of dreams, fears, hopes, and plans for the days and weeks ahead. One passenger was starting a new job, another was worried about sales, an older couple faced retirement, and another was looking for work.

When a blade failed in the propjet, the small plane dropped from the sky after a harrowing 9 minutes and 20 seconds. This is the story that Pomerantz retells, as he winds down the clock as the disaster unfolds.

The narrative moves from person to person, telling each of their individual stories leading up to the fatal flight, and describing their behavior during those crucial moments, and what it was like both for those who survived and for the families of those who did not. Ultimately, 10 people perished as the plane tumbled into what became a fiery cornfield. Some died immediately; others lingered, a few for a long time. The 10 died terrible deaths, some sacrificing their lives while trying to save others.

Inevitably, a book such as this leads us to wonder of ourselves: What would we do in similar circumstances? Our answers might differ widely; in Nine Minutes, Twenty Seconds, Gary Pomerantz vividly and respectfully captures what these courageous 29 faced, and how the crash changed everything for them and their loved ones. Elena Simon

Publishers Weekly
The first tape of Pomerantz's account is almost unbearably dry: a detailed report of a young man's career decisions; a repair job on a stress-fractured propeller; groups of seemingly unrelated, meticulously recorded facts. And Gaines's objective, deadpan reading does not spice it up. But the story and narration pick up considerable speed. The title refers to the amount of time the 29 passengers and crew aboard flight 529 from Atlanta to Mississippi had to say their prayers, watch their lives flash before their eyes and prepare themselves for the inevitable crash after the airplane's left engine failed. The plane crashed in a Georgia hayfield and fire consumed the fuselage. Pomerantz's unnerving journalistic distance, iterated by the professional, subdued reading by Gaines (who starred in Contact and other Broadway shows), begins to seem appropriate as the nightmarish crash plays out. Pomerantz interviewed survivors (19 in total) and eyewitnesses, giving the account a stark, terrifying immediacy. Melting clothing (tip: always wear cotton clothing for flights), burning flesh, dead nerves and panic become all the more real (and grisly) for the flat prose and tone. Heroic accounts of men and women unselfishly working to save as many lives as possible make the story ultimately engaging and uplifting. Simultaneous release with the Crown hardcover (Forecasts, July 23). (Sept.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In late August 1995, 29 people boarded Atlantic Southeast Airlines flight 529, flying from Atlanta to Gulfport, MS. The passengers and crew expected an uneventful flight; what they got was a nightmare. When one of the propellers failed, the plane crashed in a field; nine passengers and one of the pilots died. Why did the propeller fail? How did the passengers and crew prepare for the crash? And, most importantly, how did the crash affect the victims, their families, their rescuers, the people investigating the crash, and the employees of the company that built the defective propeller blade? Pomerantz spends most of the program exploring the time prior to the crash and just afterward. It is fascinating to hear the recollections, narrated by Boyd Gaines, of the survivors on how they felt and what happened in the nine minutes and 20 seconds prior to the crash and how they escaped. The descriptions of the injuries are difficult to hear and may not be suitable for those with weak stomachs. Also, not for those who are afraid of flying. Libraries with current events or aviation sections will want to add this to their collections. Danna Bell-Russel, Library of Congress Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780609810163
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 7/2/2002
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 5.18 (w) x 8.04 (h) x 0.72 (d)

Read an Excerpt

6:45 to Impact. Robin Fech pushed the PA button, turned to face her twenty-six passengers, and said, “The cockpit crew has confirmed we have an emergency. We have an engine failure.” She announced that the plane was headed back to Atlanta. She sounded firm even if frightened.

Chuck Pfisterer, in 6A, thought, Yeah you’ve got an engine problem all right!

Fech reiterated that the plane could fly on one engine. She also told passengers they needed to prepare, just in case. She did not deliver the lengthy formal emergency announcement she’d learned in training. She’d always thought it too long, slow, and boring. But she delivered the essence of that announcement, in her own way.

Make certain your seat belt is low and tight, she said.

Place your feet flat on the floor and review your emergency card.

She explained the brace positions. For all but a few passengers sitting by the bulkheads, that meant crossed wrists against the seat back in front of them, forehead pressed against the wrists. Fech insisted that each passenger demonstrate the brace position.

“You’ll have to prove this to me,” she said.

She asked if there were any questions. No one had any. She cleared off the kitchen galley and then moved up the aisle, saying, “Let me see it.” As passengers assumed brace positions, Fech lifted an elbow here, pushed down a head there. She had been trained to do it. She just couldn’t believe she now had to do it.

She had convinced most passengers that a safe landing was possible. In the fourth row, Ed Gray, on his way to Muscle Shoals to schmooze DuPont with his colleague across the aisle in 3C, Barney Gaskill, imagined a foam-covered landing strip and a bouncy ride in.

In Row 9, the young deputy, Tod Thompson, thought back to childhood fears. He wrestled with rationalizations. A roller-coaster ride once scared him as a boy. But he’d held on then, things had turned out okay, and he’d thought at the time, That wasn’t so bad, was it? It will be the same thing now.

Thompson craned his neck to see the left engine. A few of the left-side window shades in the middle rows hadn’t been shut. Thompson saw the twisted metal. His partner, Charlie Barton, looked out to the left wing, too. He saw what Thompson saw, and spoke not a word.

Charlie Barton went quiet, totally quiet.

Thompson didn’t want others in the plane to know his fear, least of all Charlie Barton.

The plane shook in the clouds, side to side. Thompson reminded himself to think like a lawman: Stay clear-headed! Do what you’re told! He tightened his seat belt, listened for the flight attendant’s next words. Then he closed his right-side window shade, as if the sky would no longer exist if he couldn’t see it.


In the seventh row, David McCorkell believed the plane would land just as the flight attendant said it would. Once, McCorkell had been a passenger on a plane that landed in a blizzard as fire trucks lined the runway. When that plane landed safely, every passenger applauded.

Air travel was a way of life for McCorkell. He left home in Minnesota each week on Sunday or Monday and flew to another city to train grocery chains how to use software programs. Then he flew home on Friday, washed his clothes, paid his bills, and started the cycle all over again.

This was David McCorkell, vice president of training, his life and his livelihood one and the same. At thirty-seven and twice divorced, he had the worn appearance of a man who no longer had the time, or inclination, to dream big dreams: a thick Teddy Roosevelt—type mustache, big enough to hide behind, eyeglasses that sometimes slid down the bridge of his nose, and shoulders that slouched.

The plane’s shuddering tested McCorkell’s nerves. He wanted to see the left engine. He leaned into the aisle, looked past Chuck Pfisterer in Row 6 out at the left wing. He saw the propeller blades. They were dislodged and bent and he noticed that they weren’t turning.

The passengers’ silence made him tense.

He looked at his watch: 11:45 a.m. Central time. In Gulfport he had planned to rent a car and drive to Mobile, Alabama. But now that this plane was going back to Atlanta, he worried that he would lose a half-day’s billing. At eight thousand feet and dropping, his plane attempting to enter a right turn now, David McCorkell thought, I’m going to be out a couple hundred dollars.

The right engine, that’s the first noise Alan Barrington had noticed after the propeller shattered. Barrington sat on the right side, in 6C, behind the good engine. He figured the pilots must have turned it up a few notches to compensate for the dead left engine.

The right engine revved louder than before, and lonelier.

Barrington looked at his emergency card as he awaited his chance to demonstrate the brace position for the flight attendant. He read about flotation devices and exit rows. He looked at the little drawings on the card and thought, If we crash, this card won’t do me any good.

Barrington noticed that the man across the aisle, Chuck Pfisterer, could see out on the left wing. This was the same man who had sounded so distressed with the flight attendant moments ago, the man who had mistakenly sat in Barrington’s seat before the plane took off, about thirty minutes ago. Barrington thought he saw tears in this man’s eyes.

And that prompted a scary thought: He’s got a better view than I do, and he’s got tears in his eyes. . . .

From the Hardcover edition.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 11, 2010


    This book is more than I bargained for. I was an ASA flight attendant when the crash happened. Robin came to our recurrent training and told us "her story" of that day til now. There was not a dry eye in the room. The book was written just as she had told it, but from not only her view, but the passenger's and everyone involved. It is tear-jerking,'s a page-turner. It's difficult to put it down and even more difficult to escape from the trauma you have morphed into.

    What a wonderful book--I know it took a lot to not only get the facts, but all of the people's recollections on what happened...

    Thank you!

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  • Posted December 5, 2009

    A book that will stay with you

    I first read this book in 2002 but I find myself coming back to it often. Pomerantz tells tells the story of those 9 miniutes and 20 seconds in nail biting fashion. But the real story is of the lives of the 29 crew and passengers, 19 of whom survived the ordeal. Tales of selflessness and sacrifice among so many on that plane make this a compelling read. It is truly a story of human nature at its very best.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 15, 2005

    A very inspirational story

    This story is truly quite inspirational and to learn what happened on that flight is unfortunatly very tragic. I strongly reccomend this book to anyone who is looking for a true story that will make you think twice before saying how bad your luck is.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 10, 2002


    Had to read the book for Aviation Law class. I ended up loving the book and would reccomend it to anyone.

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