I originally picked up Into the Abyss (2014) by Carol Shaben because I was looking for a book to fill the “In the Wild” bingo square. The blurb said Into the Abyss was the true story of a plane that crashed in the Canadian wilderness. That sounded like in the wild to me. However, once I read the book, it didn’t feel right. The survivors only spend one night in the wilderness and their biggest challenges are surviving their injuries and not freezing to death. So, I decided to use this book for the “Take the Skies” square instead.
On October 19, 1984, a Piper Navajo commuter plane carrying ten passengers, including the pilot, crashed at night in bad weather in the Canadian wilderness. There were only four survivors, and rescue was severely hampered by the location of the crash and the weather conditions. The four survivors, all strangers, helped each other to survive until help could reach them.
You may be wondering why the author chose this plane crash from so long ago to write about. After all, there are hundreds of small plane crashes, especially in Alaska and Canada where plane travel is one of the only ways to get around. Well, one of the survivors was Larry Shaben, an important Canadian politician and the author’s father. This crash personally affected her and her father, and she had an inside look into what had occurred. The pilot, Erik Vogel was another one of the survivors. Finally, there was a prisoner, Paul, and the policeman escorting him to court, Scott.
I thought this book was very interesting. Shaben discusses the details of the crash, the frantic search to find the plane and help the survivors, what happened to the survivors both during and after the crash, as well as the state of aviation in Canada that may have led to the crash.
The pilot, Erik Vogel, was in his early twenties and working hard to get flight time in order to qualify as a pilot for the bigger airlines. Even after flight school, he found it difficult to get work. So when he finally got a job as a pilot, he felt he could not complain about unsafe circumstances. But he was overworked, exhausted, and pushed to complete flights under dangerous weather conditions. This was true of the evening of October 19, 1984 when he thought he was closer to the airport than he was and flew below the safe altitude trying to find it.
Paul was another very interesting character. Struggling throughout his life, and flying under police custody that night, he is the least injured of the four. He works through the night to keep everyone alive, and is haled as a hero by the other survivors and the press after the accident. For a while Paul is able to turn his life around, but in the end his demons come back to haunt him and he dies alone in the cold.
Shaben discusses how Erik struggled after the crash, both with the guilt as well as the legal ramifications of crashing a plane that killed six people. Larry Shaben and the policeman, Scott, also have interesting lives after the crash. I do wish Shaben had dug a little deeper into the legal side of things, though, which is probably because of my law background.
In the scheme of world news, this was a small tragedy that happened a long time ago. (Shaben does mention the people who are killed but does not go into much detail about their stories). I believe that if you look deeply enough–any thing or any person can be interesting. Shaben certainly made this true as we learn about the crash and the lives of the survivors. Recommended.
CBR15Bingo: “Take the Skies”