Randy M.'s Reviews > The Crash Detectives: Investigating the World's Most Mysterious Air Disasters

The Crash Detectives by Christine Negroni
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Airline disasters always inspire a morbid sense of curiosity amongst us all. Hollywood has made hundreds of millions of dollars from this sad bit of human nature. Even when it is real, maybe even more so, we sit glued to the television screen hoping for the best, but nonetheless drawn by the possibility of catastrophe. The Crash Detectives looks into many of these real incidents in an attempt to group the seemingly endless possibilities for disaster into a comprehensible set of themes. The result is fascinating, and at times a little unsettling. If you have any fear of flying, this book will not likely assuage those feelings.

The Crash Detectives begins with the author’s hypothesis about the fate of Malaysia Flight 370 in 2014. I distinctly remember watching the news accounts on the disappearance of this flight over the South China Sea, on its way to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur. I remember all the talk of terrorism; the alleged mid-air hijacking of this aircraft for its use in future terrorist attacks. In contrast, the author presents the known facts about the flight and applies Occam’s Razor to propose a more plausible scenario.

From there, the author delves into many other airline incidents. Many of these have fatal outcomes, but others are described where the result was positive. As the author points out, as much can be learned from the positive outcomes as the negative. The book is pretty evenly divided into causes resulting from mechanical and human error, along with discussions about the attempts made to mitigate these errors in the future.

There is also sizable discussion on how the human factor in some of these incidents is what saved the day, decisions made that a computerized system would not have. As the book states, “a computer will continue to do its computing while the building burns around it; a human will adapt to the situation.” There are many examples in this book where the flight crews get their due respect in averting potential disaster.

All of these incidents are fascinating to read about, and at times disturbing. Some time is spent on the politicization of crash investigations; governments intentionally conducting incomplete investigations because they didn’t want some political truth to be known; manufacturers denying culpability in their designs and pointing fingers elsewhere. Other investigations point out dubious decisions made by the FAA, such as allowing flammable insulation to be used in an airliner because it was used in areas away from fire zones. Never mind the fact that power cables, electrical wires, battery packs, and more ran throughout the insulated area. Seems pretty shortsighted, and it killed 229 people on Swissair Flight 111 in 1998.

The Crash Detectives is a fascinating book, though it may not quite be the book you are expecting based on the title. This is not an in depth discussion on the methodology and tools used by crash investigators. You won’t learn how they do their job, but you will read about many lessons learned as a result of their investigations, and how they were used to make air travel safer.

The narrative structure of the Crash Detectives can be a little confusing at times. The book describes many incidents, and the people involved in those incidents. Occasionally the narrative will go on tangents, switching in the middle of a discussion about one incident to an entirely different one, and then later returning to the original. Those sudden narrative shifts require your mind to be in a bit of a multi-tasking mode while reading this book.

We are at the mercy of the planes and the pilots, the engineers and the mechanics, the air traffic controllers and all the rest, for getting us safely to our destinations. They do a spectacular job. But when things fail, we are also at the mercy of the crash investigators to determine the reasons behind the disasters; that they might uncover the faults, be they mechanical or human, and develop corrective measures. This book is a compelling dive into their world.
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Reading Progress

September 7, 2016 – Shelved
September 13, 2016 – Started Reading
September 29, 2016 – Finished Reading

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