Review

Down Around Midnight: A Memoir of Crash and Survival

by Robert Sabbag

Robert Sabbag experienced his first real taste of fame as a
writer in the '70s with his debut book, SNOWBLIND: A Brief Career
in the Cocaine Trade. Not long after reaching celebrity status, the
unthinkable happened. One foggy, black night while relaxing aboard
Air New England's Flight 248 en route to Cape Cod, his plane went
down without warning. On approach to Barnstable Municipal Airport
on June 17, 1979, the 19-passenger twin-engine turboprop crashed at
a speed of 123 knots through a thick forest of oak and pine, with
enough brute force to clear a path for 300 feet. There were 10
people aboard.

The plane was torn asunder, and the entire crash zone along with
all its inhabitants drenched in jet fuel. People were scattered
everywhere. Sabbag's seatbelt was the only thing around him that
held up; the momentum of the impact was enough to rip his seat
right off the fuselage and throw him forward, still buckled. George
Parmenter, the senior pilot, was killed instantly on impact. The
copilot sustained mortal injuries. Miraculously, all of the
passengers survived, but not without serious injuries and long-term
psychological effects. At 32 years of age, Sabbag was the oldest
person alive on the plane.

Sabbag himself did not escape the crash without injury. The
physical forces at work instantly snapped his back and pelvis,
fractured one arm, displaced one of the vertebrae in his neck, and
crushed the cartilage of his nose. He suffered from internal
bleeding and shock. There were three young girls aboard the flight,
sisters traveling without their parents, two of whom were seriously
injured. Another passenger not wearing a seat belt was thrown off
the plane. It was up to Sabbag and a couple of others who were less
hurt than he was to help the injured. With his own life hanging in
the balance due to forces out of his control, amid screaming
passengers and some who were unconscious or incapable of even
moving, Sabbag and others found themselves in a position to have to
fight to survive the most catastrophic day of their lives:

"Of the seven people alive in the passenger cabin --- one of
whom was the little girl --- only five could walk. Of those five, I
was the most seriously injured, and I operated under the assumption
that, even if I managed to walk out of the wreck, I might never
walk again...When I pulled on the emergency handles, to my
mystification, they simply came off in my hands. I expected the
windows to pop open. When they didn't, I hit them with all I had,
and still they refused to give...The exits had failed to open not
because they weren't working properly, but because they were held
shut from the outside by trees."

Sabbag remembers countless details of the crash and rescue,
including the heroic efforts of many passengers and the rescue crew
during the critical hours. He also researches and discloses the
aviation committee's findings on the incident with likely causes
and contributors, as well as unadulterated facts about risks
inherent in air travel. Disturbingly, like others, this incident
was found to be one that could have been prevented.

Becoming survivors of a life-threatening experience changed the
passengers in unexpected ways. As Sabbag himself describes, the
consequences of this type of event are both physical and
psychological. Going back to air travel certainly couldn't have
been easy for any of them. Upon reading about the effects on his
life and career, it becomes clear that the main reasons Sabbag has
been able to gradually overcome the trauma are his inherent
character traits and the grounding and support he's received from
loved ones.

DOWN AROUND MIDNIGHT ends up being a straightforward, complete
account of the crash of Air New England Flight 248, up to the
present and as recalled by many. Robert Sabbag proves himself to be
a very likable, courageous, no-nonsense kind of guy with keen
insight into himself and others. His memoir is honest, engaging and
unforgettable.

Reviewed by Melanie Smith (melanies@daywesthealthcare.com) on January 21, 2011

Down Around Midnight: A Memoir of Crash and Survival
by Robert Sabbag

  • Publication Date: April 27, 2010
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (Non-Classics)
  • ISBN-10: 0143117602
  • ISBN-13: 9780143117605