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35 Miles from Shore: The Ditching and Rescue of ALM Flight 980

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On May 2, 1970, a DC-9 jet with 57 passengers and a crew of six departed from New York’s JFK International Airport en route to the tropical island of St. Maarten, but four hours and 34 minutes later the flight ended in the shark-infested waters of the Caribbean. It was, and remains, the only open-water ditching of a commercial jet. The subsequent rescue of survivors took nearly three hours and involved the coast guard, navy, and marines. This gripping account of that fateful day recounts what was happening inside the cabin, the cockpit, and the helicopters as the crews struggled against the weather and dwindling daylight to rescue the survivors, who had only their life vests and a lone escape chute to keep them afloat.

352 pages, Paperback

First published April 1, 2008

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About the author

Emilio Corsetti III

2 books50 followers
Emilio Corsetti III is a professional pilot and author. His work has appeared in both regional and national publications including the Chicago Tribune, Multimedia Producer, and Professional Pilot magazine. Emilio is a graduate of St. Louis University. For more information about the author, please visit the author's web site at www.EmilioCorsetti.com.

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5 stars
177 (30%)
4 stars
223 (37%)
3 stars
152 (25%)
2 stars
27 (4%)
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9 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 49 reviews
Profile Image for Vicky Hunt.
799 reviews50 followers
January 21, 2018
A Riveting Account of an Airline Disaster!

Wow! The drama—the intrigue—is immersive in this historic ditching of an airliner, which was actually the only open-water ditching of a commercial jet ever. Hearing the radio transcripts of the pilot and the control towers drew me right into the moment. And, sound effects for the rescue choppers could be heard at times. I was impressed that the pilot made the call so quickly to make an emergency landing in the ocean. It was one of those moments where quick thinking saved the day for the 2/3’s of the passengers and crew that made it off the jet alive. Of course, I felt the airline had made many poor decisions that led to the need to ditch the jet.

Corsetti gives a gripping account of the contributing factors, the people involved, the human side to the equation, and the chain of errors that led to the tragedy. But, he goes much farther; giving adequate geographical details, and describing the headlines of the day, as the accident took place in 1970. It reminded me of the attention to the world around him in some of Max Hasting’s books, such as Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War. After pulling the passengers from the choppy waves, Corsetti describes how they recovered from the tragedy. Then he compares later similar accidents and how the Captain’s quick thinking had been commendable in retrospect.

This is one of those books you start reading early in the day, and read straight through to the end. I had requested a free review copy of the Audible version, and found family members just as drawn to the story as I was. Fred Filbrich narrated as if he were on the scene. This was the first I’d read of his narrations, but he has several more I will want to check out. I rate the book a five out of five, and recommend it as highly interesting for the general reader.
Profile Image for Audio Audits.
197 reviews4 followers
September 14, 2017
If you ever wanted a textbook example of Murphy’s Law in full effect this book is it! The sheer magnitude of combined miscalculations, misfortune and errors are astonishing. It led to the ditching of ALM Flight 980 into the Caribbean sea, just 35 miles short of its diverted destination. The only commercial airline to date to crash land in open waters.

Author Emilio Corsetti painstakingly details not only the facts leading up to the mishap, but also paints us a picture of aviation life in the early 70’s as well as anecdotal snippets of American history during that time.

Fred Filbrich did an excellent job narrating this true story which clocks in at just under 8 hours. His voice works perfectly for this genre and I found his reading entertaining and engaging.

This audiobook was gifted to me in exchange for an unbiased review!
1 review2 followers
August 12, 2022
My name is Catherine Kellner. My mother and father and I survived this plane crash. I was in utero.
Profile Image for Zhanna.
21 reviews2 followers
October 13, 2018
Great account of the events. I like thoroughness, especially all the footnotes. Books like this make me appreciate technology and people I sometime take for granted in aviation industry.
Profile Image for Penny Goetjen.
Author 6 books336 followers
May 2, 2017
Real life drama with the feel of fiction. Well researched and well written. I got lost a couple times with the terminology because the author has a background in aviation but the glossary at the front of the book got me though most of my hazy moments. I felt as though I was on the plane that ditched in the Caribbean Sea off the coast of St. Croix and also side-by-side with the rescue workers as they worked tirelessly to save the passengers. Enjoyed the read.
Profile Image for Scott.
273 reviews4 followers
March 24, 2017
As with his previous book “Scapegoat”, Emilio Corsetti III does it again with his new audiobook release titled “35 Miles from Shore: The Ditching and Rescue of ALM Flight 980”. In the book he tells a gripping, action packed, well researched story that is wonderfully narrated by Fred Filbrich. Portions of the story include re-enacted communications from various transcripts or interviews which brings it more to life. It would be difficult to write an action thriller as good as this book, and it is often hard to believe the events told occurred in real life as a piece of non-fiction. If you are one who enjoys stories around flight or airplanes, this is a must read/listen. If you are someone who likes documentaries of people surviving difficult situations along with the many complicated efforts involving search, rescue, and accident investigations, this is a must read for you too.

I am a certified private pilot (Cessna 172s) and have enjoyed books on flying most of my life. However, this story, as told by the author involves so much more than just another airplane or flying tale. It reveals the actual events that occurred in 1970 when a DC-9 jet aircraft was required to perform a water ditch (landing) due to fuel exhaustion. It is the only known event of its kind at the time of the book’s writing; sense then other ditching events have occurred but they are rare. Mr. Corsetti provides the reader with a first-class seat into what airlines, aircraft, and air travel, looked like back in the 1970s, and I can say it was very different from what it is today. Yet, in many ways it has not changed. It is amazing that this event was the largest and most involved search and rescue to have ever happened in the Caribbean Sea. It received assistance from the Coast Guard, Navy, Marines and a handful of local vessels.

The book opens by informing the reader about the concept of an “accident chain”. This idea claims that any type of accident (aviation or not) really is a chain of events that if only one can be prevented the accident most likely will be prevented. Mr. Corsetti walks the reader though all the various issues and events that led to the eventual accident. This involved mostly people and process errors, the machine itself did what it was expected to do when it ran out of fuel. He goes in detail about the flight events leading up to the disaster. Goes over the seconds just prior to the ditching and the events right after the crash viewed from different perspectives based on people’s testimonies.

I think what surprised me the most were the many errors and complications around the search and rescue portion. The lack of communication, and even when communication was established between rescuers, both often spoke to each other in what appeared to be different languages. We also learn of the struggles of the rescue gear such as the life jackets that for some this life saving gear may have caused more harm than good. The ability to hoist civilians up into a helicopter while swells of 30-40 feet were below and rain, low ceiling, and poor visibility above. It was amazing that anyone from the crash survived and that there were not causalities with the rescue teams themselves because many risked their own lives to save the others.

There are some good chapters covering the post-rescue events detailing the many injuries some of the passengers faced along with those that perished or were never found. Injuries were anywhere from a cut finger and bruises to broken backs and nearly everything in between. As one would expect from such a disaster, investigations and litigations quickly followed; as is usually the case. There are some good chapters later in the book about the survivors including the crew and what they are doing today along with the accident investigation findings.

Let me turn my attention from the story to the book’s narration by Fred Filbrich. Mr. Filbrich did an excellent job narrating the book and paced it well. I will note for those, like me, who like clean professionally edited audio, be aware that there are some slight audio artifacts such as volume consistency and swallowing in a few parts of the book. It was not throughout the entire book, but only in select areas. I would not let this prevent you from listening to the book in any way.

I am grateful to the author and narrator for bringing me this true-to-life story of disaster and survival. It was well worth my time and will have a lasting impact on me in the future.

Disclaimer: I was given this free review copy audiobook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.
Profile Image for Teresa.
977 reviews11 followers
June 8, 2019
ALM Flight 980 was the first and only airplane to be open-water ditched of a commercial jet ever. On May 2, 1970 the flight was landed in the ocean just 35 miles from its diverted destination. There were 57 passengers and 6 crew on board heading for St. Maarten from New York’s JFK International Airport. The plain had been in the air 4 hours and 32 minutes when the Captain made the call to land in the ocean. It is unknown if he would of tried making that last 35 miles if the outcome would of been disastrous.

This book is so well written if takes you back in time to the airplane itself. The book is told not from the Authors point of view but from everyone involved that day. I love that there are reenactments in the book. They really make you feel like you were there. The research taken to make this book is outstanding.

I received this audiobook as part of my participation in a blog tour with Audiobookworm Promotions. The tour is being sponsored by Audiobookworm Promotions on behalf of various authors, narrators, and publishers. The gifting of this audiobook did not affect my opinion of it.
188 reviews
August 14, 2021
An incredible story about a flight to a destination that is marginal for the type of plane, bad weather and a crew that was not as optimal as might be desired. What I picked up on is a certain obstinacy by the captain to maximize how much fuel would be available when reaching the destination. Add to that difficulties with getting accurate readings on how much fuel was available and conflicting weather reports.

Lots of innocent people affected by many decisions of others. It was a fast-paced and difficult recovery and was tragic that several people could not be saved.

Good, faced-paced writing that focused a lot on the events of the flight and did not get overly melodramatic about certain people involved. Sometimes, authors seem to fall in love with one or two characters and the book becomes more about them than the actual event. I liked that there was little of that in this book. The fact that the event happened 50 years ago did not matter much.
67 reviews1 follower
September 11, 2019
Gripping True Story
Overall 4 out of 5 starsPerformance 4 out of 5 starsStory 5 out of 5 stars
Reviewed: 09-10-19

35 Miles from shore. .
I found this book absolutely gripping and nail biting. The description of the ditching and subsequent rescue of most of the passengers and crew is an emotional event. Whilst reading this I was also struck by the technical details and the balance between these and dramatic effect.
Credit to Fred Filbrichs narrating a difficult topic.
I received this audiobook at no-cost from Audiobookworm Promotions. The gifting of this audiobook did not affect my opinion of it.
Profile Image for Thomas.
3 reviews
December 3, 2018
It is a well researched book. In addition to the true story, it explains how airlines operate behind the scenes. It is an excellent book, however, if I was asked to proofread/edit the book, I would have noted it is written almost entirely in passive voice. Editing it to active voice would have saved probably more than 100 unnecessary words. That is for you English Majors. Overall, an excellent story.
187 reviews3 followers
January 13, 2019
Incredible book

This is an amazing non fiction book about a pilot having to land in the ocean because of running out of fuel. I doubt the author missed a single fact! This was so interesting. Lots of facts and figures, but loads of descriptions of the passengers, crew and rescuers involved.
Scary how it is pointed out that there are probably 100 ditching a year all over the world!!!
263 reviews1 follower
January 17, 2019
Anatomy of an Airliner Accident

An interesting and highly readable story about the ditching of a commercial airliner en route from New York to St. Maarten. The story, although heavily researched, is presented from the point of view of the pilots, passengers and flight crew. The story unfolds as if you actually were present. I thought this might be a very dry read, fortunately it is anything but. Fans of aviation will enjoy this.
Profile Image for Elvis2.
26 reviews
December 18, 2021
A one-star review indicates, to me, that a book is not worth reading and that is what I have given this unreadable book. This is an article stretched and padded into a book, filled with stultifying minutiae about people, airplanes, and you-name-it, incredibly boring. At about one-third of the way through I began skimming. This is not a good sign and something I rarely do when reading. The author, not a good story-teller, took what should have been a thrilling story and ruined it.
Profile Image for Solarkat.
164 reviews2 followers
February 21, 2022
One of those stories that has you thinking hard about every misstep made. Well sourced & told in a very engaging style. The author takes the somewhat dry facts and weaves them concisely & clearly, providing enough technical detail without belaboring the point. The author also managed to keep the human angle at the forefront, taking us alongside many interesting professionals and members of the public.

I was fortunate to find this book on the DoD Navy MWR Library eBook platform.
Profile Image for Kathleen Ray.
151 reviews2 followers
June 27, 2018
I met one of the survivors of this story and was compelled to read it. I always believe that the pilot and everyone on the plane wants to survive the trip as much as you do and this book supports that. It was sad that so many didn't survive but amazing so many did. I have a new respect for airline pilots and all of the staff on the plane.
Profile Image for Mjdrean.
330 reviews4 followers
February 13, 2019
This book was very interesting and tragic. It would have been much better if 100 pages had been shaved away. There were way too many details and repetitive information. It could've read like a good mystery if the sequence of events had been juggled.
108 reviews
April 25, 2019
Reads like an ntsb report, could be a lot more lively

I hadnt realized how few ditchings there have been. This book written before Captain Sully landed in the Hudson - he was a hero, the pilot in this book was the goat.
4 reviews1 follower
March 31, 2020
Enjoyed this tight factual telling

Despite the many abbreviations this story succeeded in relating the events from many viewpoints. I was curious to learn more about the story of the couple with two young kids.
182 reviews3 followers
August 8, 2021

This book was truly amazing. Mr. Corsetti is a great author, and this book was easy to read as well as smooth flowing. This is the best book I've read in a long, long time.
Profile Image for Don Paske.
895 reviews3 followers
October 1, 2018
This was an interesting read. There was some degree of too much technical information, and I would have liked a little more information on the individuals involved.
99 reviews1 follower
January 15, 2019
Not For Me

I thought this would be an interesting story. Sorry, but I found it to be very dry and too dragged out. I made it to 47% and had to throw in the towel.
1 review1 follower
January 23, 2019
Well Researched

It was a little long for my taste but the author kept me interested even when the information seemed to drag. It was a good read.
Profile Image for Michael.
69 reviews1 follower
February 7, 2019
Very informative book.

I don't remember ever hearing about this accident before reading this book. The author did a great job telling the story.
1 review
April 7, 2020
I thought the book was very factual, informative and a great story. Very well written about an incident I was directly involved in.
May 26, 2020
A good read

Well documented account of a regrettable air disaster of a plane ditched in stormy seas near the island of St. Croix
Profile Image for Terra.
253 reviews33 followers
May 19, 2008
35 Miles From Shore by Emilo Corsetti III is the most astounding non fiction book I have ever had the pleasure of reading. Extremely detailed, well researched and action packed, this book is a don't put down book until it's finished, Wow!!

The flight of ALM 980 starts out with strikes against it. The pilot is a risk taker and not one to follow orders all the time. The navigator is fairly new to his position and wasn't supposed to be on this flight but ended up filling in for someone else who called in sick. There are no life boats as they are not required and the p.a. system in the cockpit doesn't work properly. If this isn't an omen nothing is.

As if that is not bad enough, the owner of the airlines has taken shortcuts to get his planes in the air and his crew of pilot's just happen to be Army buddies. Even though the pilot's have more than enough fly time in, the other employees that work for the owner are not overly happy that he has given his buddies higher worker status than the rest of them have. It should be a seniority base system of work but unfortunately it is a who knows who system. This does create some tension within the ranks of employees throughout the airline.

There is some doubt as to the flight distance that the DC-9 can handle without having to refuel part way during the flight. Provisions have been made to make additions to accommodate the fuel issue but are never put in place before the airline gets the okay to fly. The airline had promised not stop flights to it's customers and will make those flights even though there are risks involved. Unfortunately the customers are never made aware of this for I am sure they never would have taken the flight if they knew.

All of that said, this is a very detailed intense story of what could happen, what did happen and the coming together of people from everywhere around the ditch site to help when the call goes out. Top priority is the hope of finding survivors, assessing the area, rescuing the survivors and then putting all the information together to see exactly where and what went wrong.

Remember this is 1970 and it's when the airlines were just coming into the tourist travel area so a number of airlines were trying to jump on the band wagon to get as much business as possible. Unfortunately, the strict regulations that we have in place today weren't there at that time and needless to say cutting corners was a major part of the game. They say we learn from our mistakes, well unfortunately this is a prime example of that phrase.

The author has done a remarkable job at researching not only the accident but the before and after life of this airline. Having transcripts of the calls between the pilot and the tower's, accessing financial records and work records of the airline and getting detailed accounts from all of the survivors and rescue personal to make this book not only enticing and exciting but educational. This book is defiantly a grab the edge of your seat and hold on for the ride of your life experience.
Profile Image for Missy.
193 reviews
March 19, 2015
I must admit that I found this book to be quite interesting and the page-turner. Now, disclaimer: I LOVE real-life disaster stories. I know...sounds pretty sick..but hear me out. I love them because I enjoy learning about all of the little things that went wrong, so little that it would seem impossible for them to cause something horrible, but when compounded together, they create something big. In all cases, it boils down to human error. Personally, I believe there is much to be learned by reading about human error.

So, I love disaster stories and that may be the reason why I enjoyed this one so much. But honestly, this is a well-written, well-researched book explaining the events that led to the ditching of ALM Flight 980 in the Caribbean just 35 miles from the airport it was trying to reach. Mr. Corsetti does an excellent job of recounting not only the human and technical errors that factored into the ditching, but recounting the business and personal reasons that played a role as well. To me, exploring ALL aspects of a disaster are important because even the most innocuous things can have a hand in the events that unfold.

I think what impacted me the most about the story is how much we humans want to blame the disaster on ONE thing or ONE person. Obviously, the captain of ALM980 took the brunt of the blame and became the scapegoat (in my opinion) but how can one person make right when the plane was barely rated to fly that distance with it's max fuel load, the fuel gauges did not work properly, the weather did it's best to take the plane down one way or the other, and the controllers at the alternate were not truthful in their communication about weather conditions at their airport?

And so here's the REAL reason why real-life disaster books are so great: They expose all of the errors that went into making the disaster in the first place. How any one of those errors may not have caused the disaster to occur, but combined, it became destiny. And, most importantly, how everyone plays a role in the occurrence of the disaster in the first place. This isn't a one-man or one-technical-error show. This is everyone. Once your eyes are opened to that, you begin to think more critically about what you hear in the media surrounding these stories and recognize how many lives are ruined...and how many lives go on with little accountability at all.
Profile Image for Susan.
792 reviews40 followers
July 11, 2015
On May 2, 1970, a DC-9 jet with 57 passengers and a crew of six departed from New York’s JFK International Airport en route to the tropical island of St. Maarten, but four hours and 34 minutes later the flight ended in the shark-infested waters of the Caribbean. It was, and remains, the only open-water ditching of a commercial jet. The subsequent rescue of survivors took nearly three hours and involved the coast guard, navy, and marines. This gripping account of that fateful day recounts what was happening inside the cabin, the cockpit, and the helicopters as the crews struggled against the weather and dwindling daylight to rescue the survivors, who had only their life vests and a lone escape chute to keep them afloat.

Interesting account of an aviation disaster that I didn't hear about at the time (it happened days before 4 students were shot by the National Guard at Kent State University in Ohio on May 4, 1970). The author, who is a pilot himself, gives the reader the history of the airline and many of the people involved such as the pilot, some of the passengers and other crew members. He follows the progression of the flight, the ditching and the rescue efforts of the Coast Guard and the Navy.

I am a fan of stories about air disasters (faithful viewer of Smithsonion Channel's Air Disasters television program) and this one was quite well written. The author's examination of the ditching points out things the airline could have done to have prevented it, and also shows us deficiencies in the investigation of the accident (the maintenance records of the airplane were not requested for sometime afterwards).

I recommend this book to others who enjoy stories about air disasters and ocean rescues.
Profile Image for Wally Beddoe.
31 reviews1 follower
January 7, 2013
My good buddy J.D. Barber was the CH-46 Crew Chief involved in this rescue. For his actions, he was awarded the Navy Commendation Medal.

On May2, 1970, ALM 980 departed New York’s JFK international airport with fifty-seven passengers and a crew of six. The destination was the tropical island of St. Maarten. It was a perfect spring day with partly cloudy skies and a temperature of 64 degrees. In the Caribbean the story was quite different; thunderstorms plagued the region. By the time ALM 980 approached St. Maarten the weather had deteriorated to the point where the crew was forced to divert to San Juan, Puerto Rico. Shortly after the crew began their diversion word came that there was a break in the weather. The captain made the fateful decision to try and land at St. Maarten despite having reached his minimum fuel status. Forty-five minutes later, after three failed landing attempts, the plane ran out of fuel en route to its alternate and was forced to ditch in the shark-infested waters of the Caribbean. Twenty-three of the sixty-three passengers and crew did not survive. It was at the time, and remains, the only open-water ditching of a commercial jet. The subsequent rescue of survivors involved the Coast Guard, Navy, and Marines. In this gripping account of that fateful day, author Emilio Corsetti puts the reader inside the cabin, the cockpit, and the rescue helicopters as the crews struggle against the weather and dwindling daylight to rescue the survivors who have only their life vests and a lone escape chute to keep them afloat.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 49 reviews

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