Whew!  Finished this book in the nick of time before the end of the R.I.P. IV Challenge.  My copy is an old,  borrowed book from my Aunt Cristie with yellowed pages and the title cover almost falling apart at its seams.  It’s so old that some of you haven’t probably even been born yet when this was published.

So, this is my book for the Halloween season,  my last one for the R.I.P. IV , and my sixth novel down for the Fall Into Reading 2009 Challenge.

Author :  John G. Fuller

Copyright :  1976

This Edition’s Publication Date :  January 1978  (Paperback)

Publisher :  Berkley Publishing Corporation

ISBN-10: 425-03553-0

The Story :

In December 29, 1972, Eastern Airlines Flight 401 crashed into the Florida Everglades en route from New York to Miami.  One hundred one people died including  veteran pilots Captain Robert Loft, First Officer Albert Stockstill and Second Officer Donald Repo.  Miraculously, though, there were some survivors, among them a baby and a dog.  The cause of the crash was attributed to the failure of the flight crew to monitor the flight instruments while trying to solve the problem of an indicator landing gear light.  From a holding flight level of 2,000 feet, the plane  steadily decreased in altitude, imperceptibly until the last few seconds.

This disaster is a true documented story that happened way back in the early seventies.  Significantly, EAL Flight 401 was the first wide body plane to crash and at that time, catalogued as one of the worst airline catastrophes in the U.S.   But what really made this flight so famous were the subsequent reports of apparitions onboard other Eastern Airlines aircrafts which were fitted with good working parts salvaged from the luckless plane.  These ghost stories were well known inside the airline industry.

Flight crew members including some pilots and several passengers attest to seeing Captain Loft seated in the jumpseat a few times, simply looking straight ahead.  The ghost of Second Officer Don Repo, however, made frequent appearances to the flight crew and spoke to them to either warn of impending danger or to show damaged parts or equipment.  At one point,  he was reported to have said that he would never allow another Eastern Airlines plane to crash again.  Although he occasionally appeared in ways that were really hair-rasingly creepy (at one time appearing with only his head in a galley oven) all who encountered the ghosts agree that these spirits were benevolent and were there to protect their flights.

Intrigued with the consistency of the accounts and the fact that Eastern Airlines had resorted to concealment tactics which involved removal of many pages from the flight logbook, repeated subtle company threats and outright denials, the author did extensive research into the encounters to establish whether there really is a life after death and if we all indeed have a soul.

The Review :

The first half of the book details the crash in all its miserable, heart-wrenching detail.  It is quite a gripping account as you visualize the enormity of the catastrophe — how all lives are changed for the survivors, for all the passengers’ families and close friends, and also for the rescuers who have to face the gruesome  carnage.

The ghost stories appear on the second half .  If you’re leaning toward believing their realism, it is positively hairy to know that ghosts appear in 3-D so much so that they appear genuinely alive, like you and me.  More so, that they can chillingly appear with only a body part visible; in this case, only the flight engineer’s head looking at the stewardesses from inside an oven.  Brrrr!!!  (The uniformed man with the opaque white eyes on the front cover actually give me the creeps.)

As entertaining as these ghost stories were, and should have been the life of the book, I lost a bit of interest somewhere around the middle.   I found the number of accounts paltry.  I wish the author treated his readers to a lot more, as he had stated he had a lot of material on 401’s appartions that goaded him to delve into the question of life after death.  So, the middle of the second part does, sadly begin to nosedive a bit with the author’s lengthy account of how he went about his research.  He relates that he discovered mediums in the aviation industry to communicate with the ghosts of the flight crew, dabbled in ouija board, etc.  Although these are supposed to be fascinating in themselves,   his way of writing just didn’t quite make it so.  The ghost stories were those buoying up the flagging narrative.

His account toward the end though, was interesting; but if you didn’t quite believe it, you’d say absurd.

To Read Or Not To Read :

If you’ve even half a mind to believe in ghosts, other dimensions, and psychics, this should kick up your Halloween night, as everything is  purportedly bone-chillingly real.

Funny, The Ghost of Flight 401 is the second semi-non-fiction read I’ve proposed for Halloween. (The Historian would have been my choice though; The book is a class on its own; but I picked it up way too early for the 31st.)   I’m actually not sure whether to categorize this book as fiction or non-fiction; but I’m more inclined to say non-fiction because I do believe in souls and in the afterlife.  Last year,  I reviewed a nail-biting worry into the possibilities of the future in The Cobra Event, a fictitious story running on a lot of very true, very terrifying documented facts.

In A Nutshell:

For his conclusion, Fuller argues on the reality of the apparitions on some of these ff. points:

1.  Pilots involved are all sane, well-adjusted, down-to-earth individuals with excellent powers of observation and definitely not prone to exaggeration.

2.  “There are too many people involved in the story.  They all check out.”

3. “The descriptions given us from widely separated sources are all similar, and in many cases identical.  Most of the parties involved did not know each other, so there was no chance of collusion.”

4. “Groups of people, including passengers, claim to have seen the reappearances.  They could not all have been hallucinating.”

5.  “Why would all crew members we interviewed make this story up — IT’S NOT THAT GOOD A JOKE!

On this note,  I leave it up to you to decide whether Fuller was right or simply a kook.

But whatever you decide, just enjoy the book for what it’s worth.  Have a scary HALLOWEEN

My Mark :  Very Good!