ALM 980 Ditches at Sea, 1970
On May2, 1970, ALM 980 departed New York’s JFK international airport with fifty-seven passengers and a crew of six. The destination was the tropical island of St. Maarten. It was a perfect spring day with partly cloudy skies and a temperature of 64 degrees. In the Caribbean the story was quite different; thunderstorms plagued the region. By the time ALM 980 approached St. Maarten the weather had deteriorated to the point where the crew was forced to divert to San Juan, Puerto Rico. Shortly after the crew began their diversion word came that there was a break in the weather. The captain made the fateful decision to try and land at St. Maarten despite having reached his minimum fuel status. Forty-five minutes later, after three failed landing attempts, the plane ran out of fuel en route to its alternate and was forced to ditch in the shark-infested waters of the Caribbean. Twenty-three of the sixty-three passengers and crew did not survive. It was at the time, and remains, the only open-water ditching of a commercial jet. The subsequent rescue of survivors involved the Coast Guard, Navy, and Marines. In this gripping account of that fateful day, author Emilio Corsetti puts the reader inside the cabin, the cockpit, and the rescue helicopters as the crews struggle against the weather and dwindling daylight to rescue the survivors who have only their life vests and a lone escape chute to keep them afloat.