Into the Abyss by Carol Shaben

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Into the Abyss

Five words from the blurb: plane, crash, remote, survivors, criminal

In 1984 a small commuter plane crashed into a remote Canadian forest. This book explains the reasons for the tragedy and shows how the survivors reacted after the event. The author, Carol Shaben, is the daughter of one of the passengers and has an emotional connection to the tragedy that is evident throughout.

The book was beautifully written with the tension building slowly:

Lightning split the clouds and the sky hummed hot and electric around him. Seconds later the air cracked with a deafening boom of thunder. Erik felt his insides churn, and a clammy wetness glossed his palms where they gripped the yoke.

Events were described with a sensitivity that enabled to me read about what happened without becoming disturbed. It was also very well structured and information about everyone involved was woven cleverly into the action.

Unfortunately (and I feel bad saying this about a true event) the story wasn’t interesting enough for me to be able to recommend it to others. The survivors were rescued quite quickly so they didn’t have time to demonstrate any real survival skills or to form complex relations with each other. I lost interest in the book about half way through (when they were rescued) and wish I’d abandoned it at this point as the details of their lives after the crash failed to engage me.

The blurb of the book emphasized the presence of a criminal on the plane and I expected him to play a far greater role. I was disappointed, but not surprised, to discover that he was a fairly normal man and the adrenalin filled comments on the cover were very much exaggerated.

I also think that this book would have had a greater impact if it had been written 25 years ago. The dangerous practices of the commuter plane industry are no longer relevant and the navigation problems have been solved by our new technology. It was a mildly interesting glimpse into the problems of the past, but I often felt that she was preaching to the converted.

It is all such a shame because Carol Shaben is clearly a skilled writer. I hope that she finds a more complex subject to write about for her next book and if she does I’ll be at the front of the queue to try it.


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  1. Christy says:

    Your review makes me think about how not all stories are served best by a book format. If someone told me a story in person about how they survived a plane crash, I would be riveted. I imagine that is the sort of feeling that spurred the author of this book. But once you take what was probably a whopper of a story told in person becomes somehow lesser when stretched out over a book (especially when oversensationalized by its own blurbs).

    1. Jackie says:

      Christy, Yes, I’m sure it would be amazing to talk to those involved or even to read a short story version/magazine article about it, but I don’t think it justifies more than about 80 pages. After that I wasn’t really interested.

  2. Malibu says:

    I enjoyed this book from cover to cover. For any pilot like myself who lived in Grande Prairie in those years the story holds personal value.. It was an amazing story that although written about past aviation problems, still sends a strong message to pilots flying the north today, not to push the limits or to take risks. The large amount of detail about the lives of those involved helped to demonstrate the far reaching repercussions that arise as a result of these kinds of events. News reports reporting fatalities and survivors alike, cannot create the impact and lessons learned the way the detailed Chronology provided by Carols skilled authorship was able to provide. My plane use to be parked in the former Wapiti hanger., I flew Search and Rescue in the same localities. I believe for people living in Northern Alberta this book is a fascinating look back and fills in the blanks to an otherwise under reported event. Good Job Carol. I will make sure that many more get a chance to read this well written book. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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