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

Overview

“A deeply moving account of the extraordinary strengths that ordinary people can display when tragedy confronts them. As emotionally powerful a book as you are likely ever to read.”
–David J. Garrow, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Bearing the Cross

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 hear an explosion and, looking out the ...
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Overview

“A deeply moving account of the extraordinary strengths that ordinary people can display when tragedy confronts them. As emotionally powerful a book as you are likely ever to read.”
–David J. Garrow, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Bearing the Cross

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 hear an explosion and, looking out the windows on the left side, 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–nine minutes and twenty seconds in which Gary Pomerantz takes readers 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, nineteen 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.

This is not so much a book about a plane crash as it is a psychologically illuminating real-life drama about ordinary people and how they behave in extraordinary circumstances. Each of us has wondered what we would do to survive a life-threatening situation: Would I survive? How would I conduct myself–would I act to save others in need or only myself? Would others try to save me? How would I be affected by the experience? Judging by what is revealed in Nine Minutes, Twenty Seconds, the answers are surprisingly optimistic.

In telling the remarkable stories of these twenty-nine men and women, GaryPomerantz has written one of the most compelling books in recent memory. Open to any page and you’ll immediately be drawn into the dramatic pull of the narrative. But on a deeper level, 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 book will linger in your mind long after you turn the last page.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
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)

Elena Simon lives in New York City.

Bruce Feiler
Nine Minutes, Twenty Seconds has the power of myth and the immediacy of a next-door neighbor. Gary Pomerantz has performed a breathtaking feat: he has written a modern-day fable that’s somehow about each of us, our desire to fly, and our willingness to soar again. Nine Minutes, Twenty Seconds will tap into your deepest dreams – and ultimately inspire you to make sure they come true.
Erik Larson
Words like shattering and riveting don’t come close to capturing the impact of this fine book, the most powerful I’ve read in a very long time. The experiences of its heroes–and there is no better way to describe the men and women who populate its pages–will move and haunt for a good long while.
Jimmy Breslin
There is an indescribable thrill while reading reporting like this. Fact by fact, one precious detail after another, all gathered by a reporter using his feet, Gary Pomerantz gives us flight attendant Robin Fech, seconds away from a crash, calling out, ‘brace position,’ right out of chapter one, page 23 of her manual. In the flames on the ground, she wanted to take a man’s sneakers off so she could pull off his pants. When she looked again, the sneakers were not there. They had melted onto the soles of his feet. This is how Gary Pomerantz reports his book and this is how chilling his facts make it.
Melissa Fay Greene
What is it about the power of certain combinations of words to pull you in, to suck you in, so that you can’t turn the pages fast enough and the outside world falls away? Gary Pomerantz has written pages that leave you breathless; you tear through them like a late passenger sprinting down an airport terminal. When you pull up, you feel windblown, as if you’ve stood in front of a propeller plane revving up.
William Langewiesche
I loved Nine Minutes
Publishers Weekly
The title refers to the time that elapsed from the catastrophic failure of flight 529's left engine to the moment the 65-foot fuselage came to a twisted halt in a hayfield in southeastern Georgia. The 29 passengers and crew (of which 19 survived) on the America Southeast Airlines flight to Biloxi had almost 10 minutes to search their character for rules to use in approaching certain disaster. Pomerantz contemplates the accident mostly from a reporter's distance, beginning with the design and fateful repair of turbine blade number 861381, through to the end of official investigation and litigation of the crash three years later. Pomerantz had the benefit of an almost complete roster of eyewitnesses, including the small-town emergency doctors, nurses and rescue personnel and even relatives of the dead. He tersely succeeds in creating a cast of mostly small-town Americans as a Lockerbie-like "crash community," their essential natures magnified by the crash ("ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances"). This tone avoids sensationalizing but often levels the event with a monotone of joie de vivre. It's Pomerantz's sharp writing and reporting that make the book so riveting. (Sept.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
On August 21, 1995, Atlantic Southeast Airlines Flight 529 from Atlanta to Gulfport, MS, suffered a catastrophic breakage of one propeller, which not only destroyed an engine but also disabled one wing. The fiery aftermath of the crash eventually killed ten of the 29 people aboard. Pomerantz (Where Peachtree Meets Sweet Auburn) here attempts to reconstruct the thoughts and actions of the passengers and flight crew during the nine minutes, 20 seconds between the propeller break and impact, plus events before and after the crash, and thereby produces a moving portrait of the human experience of disaster. The competence of the flight crew and the willingness of the passengers to help one another despite the risks make for a powerful story. In particular, the will to survive of a young mother burned over 92 percent of her body is deeply affecting. Though not recommended for the white-knuckled flyer, this is suitable for all academic and public libraries. Deirdre Bray Root, Middletown P.L., OH Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A heart-in-your-throat story of a small commercial plane headed for a crash landing. Atlantic Southeast Airways Flight 529 wasn't in the air long when a loud explosion called passengers' attention to the left wing, where the engine had been shredded and was now wreaking havoc on the plane's stability (an investigation later showed that a propeller blade had broken, throwing the whole engine out of balance). Pomerantz (Journalism/Emory Univ.; Where Peachtree Meets Sweet Auburn, 1996) takes readers through the ensuing nine-plus minutes as the plane rapidly, but never wildly out of control, lost altitude. There were 29 people on the flight and, through interviews with those who survived, plus material from the National Transportation Safety Board, rescue personnel, doctors, and lawyers, the story is reassembled in suspenseful detail. Edgy paragraphs jump between the thoughts and actions of the passengers and the three-person crew. A suitable amount of biographical detail showing that these were everyday folk headed to Gulfport, Mississippi, from Atlanta-engineers, teachers, a sheriff, a dockmaster, a minister-invites readers to identify, and they will. First the plane shudders, then stabilizes, then violent tremors hit. One man is wondering how bad it is when he looks at a passenger with a window seat: "He's got a better view than I do and he's got tears in his eyes." The plane never makes it to the airport, landing in a hayfield at 138 miles per hour, bouncing, spinning, and breaking apart. Just when you think the worst is over, it gets worse, with a fire burning at 1,800 degrees. The escape from the flames is simply terrifying. The crash investigation and the follow-up on thesurvivors allow readers to let muscles loosen and blood return to their knuckles. Unlike the pilots of ASA 529, Pomerantz is in control all the way in this spellbinding and horrifying death ride. Author tour
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780609606339
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/4/2001
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.52 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 0.98 (d)

Meet the Author

Gary M. Pomerantz
Gary M. Pomerantz served the past two years as Distinguished Visiting Professor of Journalism at Emory University in Atlanta. His first book, Where Peachtree Meets Sweet Auburn, was named a 1996 Notable Book of the Year by the New York Times. He captured the Ernie Pyle Award for human interest writing in 1999 and the Society of Professional Journalists’ Sigma Delta Chi award for feature writing for his seven-part series in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the air crash that is the subject of this book. He lives with his wife and three children near San Francisco.
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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 hiscolleague 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. . . .

Copyright 2001 by Gary M. Pomerantz
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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 20, 2001

    Testimony to Human Spirit

    The author takes the reader through all aspects of Flight 529, including the primary cause. From the mechanic to the flight attendant and pilots, the passengers and the people on the ground that were called to action. Regular people fighting beyond hope.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 16, 2010

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