Saturday 29 April 2017


5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK HERE
On Goodreads HERE

How I discovered this book:  I got talking to the author on Twitter and read a couple of her articles, which were extremely good, so I was interested enough to download her first book when it was published. 

This is a novella length examination of the events leading up to and the aftermath of the Tenerife air disaster of 1977.  In March of that year, two planes, a Pan Am and a Dutch KLM jet, were heading for the Canary Islands where passengers would disembark for holidays.  Because of a bomb scare at their designated airport, Las Palmas, they were re-routed to the much smaller Los Rodeos, where the disaster took place.


In describing the events leading up to the tragedy, Modjeska clearly outlines the extraordinary series of minor events, which, on their own, caused difficulty.  Occurring at the same time, however, the bomb scare, the size of Los Rodeos, the language difficulties, the concerns of the pilots, the lack of standardized terms used in transmissions, radio glitches, the regulations about the amount of time a pilot is allowed to remain in the cockpit before taking a rest, and finally the weather, all came together to produce the perfect, disastrous storm.  The movements of the planes are clearly described, using diagrams; the detail is important.  The author also uses transcripts of the transmission conversations to give the reader a clear understanding of the misapprehensions between pilots, co-pilots and air traffic controllers.

The description of the tragedy itself, when the two planes crashed on the runway, is harrowing indeed, and close attention is given to the question of who was to blame.  Modjeska has presented the information in such a way that the reader can make up his own mind.  It's so well written, with even the minute technical detail clear enough to hold the attention.  At first I found myself thinking it was the fault of one person, then another, but in the end I came to the conclusion, like the author, that the cause was a coming together of many unfortunate circumstances.  She talks, near the end, of a film that was made of it that portrays Pan Am as the heroes and victims, and KLM as the cause; I am glad she showed another slant to this.  

It's an excellent book, and probably, I would imagine, the most comprehensive and fair account of this tragedy.