Air Disaster

James Hannaham

A plane crashed under mysterious circumstances in a country with a dense and sparsely populated rainforest. None of the passengers or crew survived. Because of the nature of the accident, many parts of the plane had scattered over a wide area, which made this difficult investigation almost impossible. People from nearby villages walked away with parts of the plane they thought might be useful as tools or to trade. The small country did not have a good transportation safety board. They needed to send the many charred parts of the fuselage to the United States for analysis. After getting word to the local populace that they would pay a reward for the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder, and providing pictures of both, officials recovered each of them. The boxes had sustained heavy fire damage; no one knew how much information they might yield, if any. The investigators carefully packed the black boxes, which were orange, into crates and put them on an airplane to Washington, D.C. But the airplane carrying the black boxes disappeared from radar while over the ocean en route to the United States. There followed an extremely time-consuming and costly search and rescue effort for the black boxes on board the second plane as well as for those from the earlier crash. The search continued for months and cost many millions of dollars. The governments conducting the search ran out of money twice and nearly gave up, but the families of those presumed dead insisted that the search continue and put pressure on the various governments involved. For a while, the press remained fixated on such an unusual story, but gradually, with so few developments, they lost interest. A year and a half into the search, investigators found the wreckage. The plane had sunk so far down that only a robotic submersible could explore the crash site. Alternatives existed, but their costs became prohibitively high. Finally, after five years, the technology and budget came within reach, and the investigators recovered both flight data recorders and cockpit voice recorders. Everyone on the reconnaissance boat whooped with joy. That night, on the way back to shore, the boat caught fire and sank, killing all crew members. No one could ever properly investigate any of the mishaps; they all remain completely unexplained at the bottom of the ocean. That’s what it’s like to have to deal with you.

James Hannaham is the author of Delicious Foods, which won the PEN/Faulkner Award. His next book, Pilot Imposter, is a multigenre book of responses to poems by Fernando Pessoa, which will be followed by a novel, Re-Entry, or What Happened to Carlotta.
Originally published:
June 28, 2021


Rachel Cusk

The novelist on the “feminine non-state of non-being”
Merve Emre


Renaissance Women

A new book celebrates—and sells short—Shakespeare’s sisters
Catherine Nicholson

Fady Joudah

The poet on how the war in Gaza changed his work
Aria Aber

You Might Also Like

Last Air

Jeffrey Gray

The Heavy Air

Capitalism and affronts to common sense
Anne Boyer


On Claire Messud

Fiction in review
Marta Figlerowicz


Sign up for The Yale Review newsletter and keep up with news, events, and more.