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Crash Course

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On a cold winter night, a passenger jet with 189 aboard crash landed, out of fuel, in a suburban neighborhood in Portland, Oregon. Ten people died. The pilot was blamed and stripped of his career, and a sweeping transformation of flight crew training took place that made United Flight 173 (in)famous worldwide as the model for failure and change.

That was only the half of it.

Hiding in plain sight for years in an attorney's file boxes, the forgotten truths of the landmark air disaster reveal much more: an emotional journey tethered to the disgraced pilot and a three-year-old girl who survived the crash and became an unlikely hero for justice and public safety in the dramatic legal battle that followed.

Crash Course, by award-winning journalist Julie Whipple, is the long-overdue, true story of a misunderstood airline tragedy that changed more about our daily lives than most people know. Here is why we're safer today, how we're not and what we can do about it.

296 pages, Paperback

Published March 25, 2018

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About the author

Julie Whipple

1 book4 followers
Julie Whipple is a writer and educator living in Portland, Oregon. She holds an MFA in creative writing with an emphasis on nonfiction, and has worked as a journalist in Kenya and Tanzania where she was the East Africa correspondent for the London-based, weekly news magazine Africa Economic Digest. She also filed stories for the London Observer, South Magazine, Radio France International and Deutsche Welle among others. In the United States, her work has been published in the Christian Science Monitor, The Oregonian, the Portland Business Journal, and Portland Monthly Magazine. She is the recipient of a Kellogg Award for Reporting and holds professional memberships in the Authors Guild and PEN America.

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Displaying 1 - 10 of 10 reviews
Profile Image for Jean.
1,708 reviews742 followers
December 21, 2018
This book is about air passenger jet number 189 that crashed into a Portland, Oregon neighborhood. The investigation’s findings led to major transformation changes in training. Then United Flight 173 crash also brought about sweeping changes in regulations.

This book is well written and researched. Whipple is a journalist and the book reveals her investigation and writing skills. The book is very easy to read and understand for the lay person. The author not only explains the investigations of the crashes but presents the exciting courtroom drama as well. This is an excellent read.

I read this as an audiobook downloaded from Audible. The book is eight hours and eight minutes. Heather Henderson does an good job narrating the book. Henderson is a voice actress and audiobook narrator. She has won several Earphone Awards as well as the 2013 Best Children’s Audiobook Narrator Award.
Profile Image for Don Dyer.
Author 7 books1 follower
July 31, 2021
This exquisitely written and artfully crafted nonfiction book examines the many contributing factors in an United Airline plane that ran out of gas and crashed on the outskirts of Portland in the 1970s. Ten people died, including the parents of an orphaned nine-year-old girl, whose relatives sought the truth behind the disaster. The airline blamed the pilot. However, the story disinterred by Whipple from legal documents reveals an air carrier with a lengthy pattern of neglected maintenance, malfunctioning instruments, flawed equipment designs, concealed information, a profits-first corporate culture, and a rush to blame and disgrace the pilot. Besides a great read and an epic courtroom drama, "Crash Course" highlights the many airline safety improvements spawned by this legal battle, and the many legal protections the industry subsequently pressed into federal law.
Profile Image for Julie Whipple.
Author 1 book4 followers
February 6, 2021
Just a little shameless horn tooting here thanks to Writer's Digest. Crash Course earned one of three Honorable Mentions in the 28th Annual Self-Published Book Awards competition (2020). The very kind words from the judge made my day!

"This is one of the best books I’ve read in some time. The story is interesting, it’s well researched, well written, and the author does a fantastic job of building tension and giving the reader relief. It was hard to put this book down. After each chapter, I wanted to know what was going to happen next. What would happen to the pilot? What would happen to the girl who lost her family? Perhaps, one of the best moments in the book is during the plane crash. The timing and pace matches the frantic atmosphere of the flight crew. While the moments leading up to, and during the plane crash, are gripping, the most interesting parts of the book are to come. The crash happened a long time ago, so the author expertly leads us through the years after. Whether you are interested in planes or not, the high drama that plays out in this book should be of interest to most readers.

Again, the structure, pacing and organization are paramount in this book. They are so well done. But, the design of the book is also really well done. The cover design is unique, intriguing and contemporary. While a reader shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, this is a cover that will make a reader pick up this book."
Profile Image for Julian Dunn.
279 reviews15 followers
August 12, 2019
This book is about the crash of United Airlines flight 173 in Portland back in December 1978. Most contemporary accounts of the crash fault the captain, Malburn McBroom, and his crew, for being so preoccupied with a landing gear problem that they failed to properly manage the remaining fuel, so the airplane ran out of gas and crashed.

However, like most complex systems failures, there were many other contributing factors, including United Airlines' negligence in not properly maintaining the landing gear on DC-8 airplanes. This was the subject of a civil lawsuit filed by the author's father, a Portland-based attorney, back in 1984 against United on behalf of an (at the time) eight-year-old survivor of the crash, who was both severely injured and also lost her entire immediate family in the accident. The suit not only highlighted United's role in the disaster but also their callous attempts to try and avoid punitive damages, which they successfully did in an ultimate appeal to the Oregon Supreme Court -- in a ruling that is, as the author clearly shows, patently unconstitutional.

Whipple's book is as much a comprehensive account of the accident, filling in the gaps in the NTSB's original report, as it is an indictment of our entire legal system that favors powerful, moneyed corporations, a situation that has only gotten worse in the intervening four decades. She methodically describes how it would be nearly impossible to bring such a suit today, what with unnecessary caps on punitive damage awards to address a perception (though not a reality) that they are "out of control", the ability for corporations to deduct punitive damages from their taxes (in other words, forcing the American taxpayer to subsidize corporate wrongdoing), the increased use of forced arbitration in consumer contracts, and many other egregious practices that have weakened the already tenuous hope that the average customer could seek redress for negligence in the courts.

For a small-print, self-published book, Whipple's book is surprisingly well-written and thoroughly researched and brings to light many lessons beyond just those of the accident itself. It should be required reading for anyone interested in systems safety or modern consumer jurisprudence.
Profile Image for Cooper.
515 reviews10 followers
January 12, 2019
I didn't know anything about the plane crash of United Flight 173. Having watched Weather Channel's "Why Planes Crash" and Smithsonian's "Air Disasters", I'm rather intrigued by the people and the investigation into any crash.

Crash Course covers so many aspects that it really holds ones attention. From the crash to the aftermath and trial, Ms. Whipple delves into how such a traumatic event affects not just the people but the community as well. I was astonished to read about how lackadaisical the investigators were. "I was aware that within a few days after the accident the landing gear parts were sold for salvage and I assume melted down. To my knowledge, nothing was saved" - statement from Capt McBroom. HOW could the airline be allowed to do this when the accident involved faulty landing gear??? HOW could the plane run out of fuel???

Ms. Whipple brings the reader into the story and makes us care about the people involved. Reading about the trial and how the system favored the airline over victims was eye opening.

A great read that will take you from the beginning of the crisis to the conclusion.
Profile Image for Katmac.
36 reviews
May 6, 2018
“Crash Course” by Julie Whipple
Last summer my niece Leah Nosack invited her family and her life long best friend Julie Whipple on a whale watching boat trip off the coast from Depot Bay, Oregon. At that time Julie mentioned to me that she was writing a book about a Portland Oregon plane crash that happened in 1978. She gave me a few details of the book, which sounded fascinating. I told her I would I like to read the book when it was finished. I have now read “Crash Course” that has recorder the devastation that affected everyone involved in that plane crash. Julie’s father, Stewart M. Whipple was the attorney that handled the court case against United Airlines. With Mr. Whipple’s boxes of kept files Julie was able to research and record the data to compile the true account of what happened to United Flight 173 and the 189 people onboard that horrible night when the plane crashed on Burnside Ave. in East Portland.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Garland.
10 reviews4 followers
October 21, 2018
A fascinating read about one of the key events in the history of airline safety. Much of the story would never have come to light without the legal battles that followed. I have some background in healthcare systems safety, which has its roots in air travel systems safety. This book really delves into the interplay of human factors and system factors in the crash. The whole story is a good illustration of the fact that well-trained, well-intentioned people will still inevitably make errors sometimes. The question is whether the system is robust enough to catch those errors in time, or allows them to snowball into disaster. I appreciated the legal context the author provided in describing the fallout from the crash. The precedent established is still significant today, though not in the way I would have guessed. The personal stories of passengers and crew were poignant and told with care.
Profile Image for Rachel.
9 reviews
October 25, 2018
I picked this up from the Portland library with high hopes. The subject matter seemed fascinating and I’m a legal nerd but I had a difficult time being engaged in this one. It felt longer than it needed to be and the book binding DROVE ME CRAZY. I could barely read the words on half the pages because the binding was misaligned, talk about a hurdle to over come. All in all it’s an interesting story but the book kind of went on and on where it didn’t need to. The writing style was good but it just needed to be more succinct.
Profile Image for Heather.
194 reviews
January 3, 2019
I was too little to remember the crash of United Flight 173 but when I told my mom I was reading this she remembered exactly what they were doing that night. This book is a fascinating look at the crash, its aftermath for aviation, and even the legal system. I highly recommend it.
Profile Image for Susie.
21 reviews2 followers
December 9, 2018
If you fly. Read this. Changed my mind about punitive lawsuits. Well written.
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