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Airliners are one of the most complex, technologically driven, pieces of equipment in the world. They are used to facilitate the movement of hundreds of millions of people around the world every year. By the year 2000 they had exceeded one billion in the number of passengers they had carried-nearly one sixth of the world's population. By the early nineties the computer had taken hold of the sophisticated airliner's navigational, auto-piloting and systems monitoring and welfare control. The time was ripe then for the one thing that computers are vunerable to -voltage fluctuations;either by electrical overloading or loss thereof. This is what happened to Flight 111. It all started with a short in a wire bundle, likely feeding the aircraft's passenger entertainment system situated a few feet behind the copilot. It ended when 229 people died in the cold waters of the North Atlantic four miles out from the lighthouse at pretty a little tourist attraction called Peggy's Cove in Nova Scotia.
I made the decision to write Swissair Down after several months of soul searching. My reasons were three fold. First I'm a pilot myself and I am intrigued by the way that air investigations are done when an aircraft has crashed and there are no survivors to tell what and why it happened. Second I wanted to tell the story of the anatomy of an air accident as it unfolded. And third, I wanted to convey my own concerns about aviations headlong rush into technological areas that might not prove to be beneficial to the passengers.
Several years ago I participated in the evacuation of the lone but critically injured survivor of a light airplane crash that took two other lives at a small airfield in Hants County, Nova Scotia. That accident was almost three years to the day before the Swissair crash of Flight 111 off Peggys Cove, Nova Scotia. The night of the crash of Flight 111, I was sitting in the clubhouse of the same airfield when one of our pilots informed us that an airliner had crashed off the coast, about 45 miles south of our airfield. We watched the local coverage for several hours afterwards and speculated , as pilots will, as to what might have happened.
If you combined all of my reasons for the writing of this book into one, then I suppose it would be that I wanted to try and take some of the mystic out of why these things happen and to avert the type of wild-eyed foolishness that abounds around the reasons for the crews' responses to the emergencies and the speculation and uninformed "expertise" usually displayed by the media and subsequently the general population.
SWISSAIR DOWN attempts to deal with the investigation into what circumstances were present that made Flight 111 crash, from the time it took off up until it impacted the waters off Peggys Cove. But it goes further back than that looking for other contributing factors.
There is a private world that most people are unaware of that exists on the flight decks of commercial aircraft: a world not well illuminated by the many films that have led people into airliner cockpits over the last 70 years or so. Usually these movies are unrepresentative of the true nature of the flightdeck, the most important part of any aircraft. The politics, the chain of command and the mindset of the flight crew are usually untouched in the private sector when it comes to airline accidents because it is the one area least understood by the layperson.
Swissair Down seeks to take the reader into the cockpit and let you see how that world works. It explains what might have happened to the instruments and how their loss resulted in the crash of Flight 111, the frailty of those instruments and why we should be careful as we proceed further into airliner technology in the 21st century.
Reviews of Swissair Down
"Swissair Down is a thorough, decent and authoritative book...Ledger's
obvious love of aviation and his sorrow at the pack 'em and stack 'em
grubbiness of the major airlines gives the book a doleful power."
Adair Brouwer, reviewer -Quill & Quire literary review magazine -Toronto
This well-written, timely, and fascinating book is recommended for anyone interested in airplanes and commercial aviation.
Gordon Shaw - Canadian Book Review Annual
"Ledger presents his closely reasoned conjecture regarding Swissair
111's final moments".... a piquant mix of fact, informed
conjecture and speculation..." Bob Merrick - Canadian Flight Magazine,
Canadian Owner's and Pilot's Assoc. -Toronto
"This is a thought provoking book. It is scary without being
sensationalist. Highly reccommended." Stephen Beecroft-Stoney Creek News -
"Don Ledger's arguments seem tight and frightening. The fact that he is
a pilot himself, lends credence to his views." -Atlantic Books Today N.S.
"In an explosive final chapter, Ledger theorizes that co-pilot Stefan
Lowe or pilot Urs Zimmermann was trying to ditch in the water when they
realized that they wouldn't be able to find Halifax International
David Redwood-The Daily News
"Pilot and author Don Ledger has written an account of the events
leading up to the tragic crash of ..Flight 111...with a view to
illuminating the cause of the crash and preventing such a thing from
ever happening again."
Sunday Books "Best of the Rest" The Sunday Daily News
Booksellers Contact Information
Swissair Down is a trade paperback, 178 pages-illustrated. Released in June 2000, it is now in its second printing.
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