Aircraft Accident Investigation as Fiction?

Why write a fictional story on aircraft accidents?
There are numerous books – both fiction and non-fiction – on the bookstore shelves that speak to aviation accidents and disasters. These describe in intimate detail how an accident investigation takes place, what resources are necessary, and what talent must be tapped. Often enough they are authored by people who have been a direct part of the process, touching the broken pieces of a once flyable aircraft, and applying an analytical view into what is left. These writings are often systematic, impersonal, yet informative looks at the entire process through the eyes of the author; a teaching instrument that breaks down the case piece by piece and lays it out for the reader; in short: a textbook.
I have known other authors who have written the non-fiction versions of accident investigation; they are true to the process; they are true to the reader, walking him/her through each case as it happened. They are textbooks, designed to teach – not necessarily to entertain. The very purpose of non-fiction is the telling of credible intelligence, to instruct for the purpose of education and/or the simple advancement of one’s knowledge. These authors have my respect.
Then there are fictional stories that tell a tale about an imaginary tragedy. Often these novels – and in some extent, movies – are obviously fabricated. I don’t say this to showcase my book (though this is my website); instead I say that it is because of these books that I wrote my novel.
People in aviation are a technically accurate lot and they are a hard audience to please. A good friend of mine, Bill O’Brien, said that, “mechanics are visual by nature; they must see what it is they are going to do, whether on paper or in their minds.” In the same respect flight attendants are more procedural, accomplishing their work in an orderly fashion. Pilots have to be reactive; although they are procedural in many respects, they have much more of the unexpected to reply to. But one thing all aviation people demand is … accuracy.
I’m reminded of a movie from the eighties; the protagonist needed to convince himself to go back sixty years in time. He accomplishes this by surrounding himself in detail; immersing himself into the 1920s; he creates … a story to live in. He succeeds so well that he literally goes back to live in the 1920s. However, at the conclusion his adopted world crumbles when he finds a penny dated ‘1980’ in his back pocket; suddenly he’s returned to the 1980s. Furthermore, he can no longer ‘go back’, being forever ripped from the past and locked in his home decade.
That’s what a novel is, the ability to forsake one’s world for another; to be totally engrossed in the story. But it has to be accurate; it cannot insult the intelligence of the reader; force him/her to accept, not the impossible, but the unlikely.
For me, many of the novels and films about fictional aircraft accident investigations are unlikely; they rudely tear me out of the story and dump me unceremoniously in my chair, staring angrily at a collection of now useless pages that cost me $15 or more. A pilot cannot nose dive into the ocean and survive; an aircraft cannot whack its wing against a building and continue flying; and a helicopter blade cannot rip through brick and mortar like a scalpel through cream cheese and remain intact. It is supposed to be fictional, not unbelievable.
The reason I write fiction – despite the fact that what I write is based on my experience as an investigator – is also to convey what I know and have done, but not in the noble way of the non-fiction writer. My purpose is to ensnare the reader; trap him/her in a story and while holding them captive, allow them a view into my world. My job is to take them on a journey – an expedition immersed in reality – through the developing plot. I get them access to testing of a sister aircraft; sit in on the NTSB progress meetings; and I let them experience the roadblocks and victories each distinguished investigator must go through as they keep their promise of: Never Again, to the victim’s families.
If the reader encounters a teaching moment, so be it. They should have known the trip would be dangerous.
So please, when you read my book, know that you will be pulled through a story steeped in authenticity with characters portrayed with respect and credibility. You will never find a troublesome penny to drag you from the ride.

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