Lead Review (Drowning)

  • Book: Drowning
  • Location: Moloka'i, Pacific Ocean
  • Author: T J Newman

Review Author: Tina Hartas



I was curious to see how this author and former flight attendant would tackle the story of a downed aircraft, where some people escape, many die but a small group of people remains in the body of the plane as it sinks into the sea. Given the recent loss of Oceangate’s submersible “Titan”, which disappeared shortly after it started its watery descent (with the fear of people stuck in cramped conditions, dwindling oxygen supplies and a race against time), this thriller seemed a relevant read.

Coastal Airways flight 1421 is due to fly from Honolulu to San Francisco. It has a catastrophic systems failure and drops out of the sky like a lead balloon just after take-off. Life vests are donned and brace positions assumed. Boom. The plane dives, ruptures and water permeates and some people can escape but some are engulfed by the fire that is spreading along the fuel line on the surface of the sea. Others remain put.

The wreck is sinking and drifting downwards through the Sunlight zone (which makes up 5% of the ocean and offers just a touch of light), settling and teetering at 200 feet, and among the passengers are Will Kent (who is an engineer and knows engineering things) and his 11 year old daughter Shannon. Will’s estranged wife, Chris, (she and Will are at the tail end of separation) is on the surface and just happens to lead a professional dive rescue team (because that is what she does).

The novel is structured in chapters, charting the time since impact and the levels of oxygen anticipated remaining on board. Cameras are sent down from Chris’ team and faces of survivors can be identified at the windows, which motivates the rescuers on land to pull out all the stops.

I am sure it was explained but how come one pilot was outside, still strapped into his seat, bloated, already being eaten by fish and then there were those inside, still managing in dim light to move around and be functional? I may have missed the technical detail on this.

Once the cameras from the rescue team above become evident to the incarcerated passengers, there was apparently a sense of relief. Thus people “milled about and sat in passenger seats while snacking through the food cart..” Really? I would be sweating blood by that point. Who could eat if they are stressed beyond belief in these circumstances, knowing the oxygen is rapidly dwindling and the whole rescue effort is a race against time?

Generally there is a good level of tension but the whole premise and people’s responses seem way off what I imagine to be reality. There is a lot of description, which is very visual and therefore really suited to film (it will be no time until this is made into a movie), but, as a read, it gets too bogged down in detail, with little character development. There are an awful lot of acronyms to memorise and quite some technical information, which left me skimming certain parts of the narrative.

The aircraft might have been resealed but wouldn’t the passengers get the bends at 200 feet, given all the electrics had failed and water was seeping in through a crack in the cockpit door? I guess I just couldn’t shake my scepticism about the whole concept of the story, and just didn’t pick up what others describe as the “…devastating emotional power and heart-stopping suspense…” I suppose I kept reading to see how ridiculous the plot would get, which is neither an edifying nor satisfying reading experience, is it? It will no doubt make a good film as it would be better suited to that medium.

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