Finale on the NYT Mag Airplane-in-Peril Story

By James Fallows

I am grateful to Hugo Lindgren for his response, as editor of the New York Times Magazine, to questions and doubts about Noah Gallagher Shannon's story, "The Plane Was About to Crash. Now What?" The response included time, date, and routing information for the author's flight, which had not appeared in the original story.

Before I heard from Lindgren, I was about to put up a large number ( > 20) of messages from pilots, flight attendants, engineers, etc on why they viewed details in the story as mistakes at best, technically implausible fabrications at worst.

In light of Lindgren's response, I don't think it's worth doing so -- though, thanks to those who wrote in. Here's how it settles out for me:

      - I do believe that the author was aboard a flight two years ago that had an unexpected diversion to Philadelphia, and that this frightened him.

      - I do not believe most of the detail, color, and sequence-of-events in the story. And it strikes me that Hugo Lindgren is not trying to convince me that I should. Look again at this central and extremely artful passage from his statement:

Naturally, not every detail matches everybody else's experience. Surely even people on that plane would remember it differently. The story was about the personal experience of a fearful moment....He only reported what he heard and felt, which is consistent with the magazine's Lives page, where the account was published.

So if you went to the trouble (as I have not done) of finding other passengers on that plane and asking them whether, in fact, a rattled-sounding pilot had left the cockpit during the emergency to yell instructions down the aisle, meanwhile dangling a cap in his hand; or if you found the radar tracks to see whether an airliner had actually circled for two hours over Philadelphia; or if you heard from an Airbus electrical engineer (as I have) that it would have been impossible for the cabin lighting or public-address system to have behaved in the way the story claims; or if you went to the FAA or NTSB and found that their records for that date didn't match this story; or if you did anything else of the sort --  it wouldn't matter. The writer was telling us "what he heard and felt," not necessarily what "happened."

OK. To me this is closed. I appreciate the quick response from Hugo Lindgren. Noah Gallagher Shannon is clearly a very talented young writer -- no one would have wondered about the story if it hadn't been so grippingly told. I  assume he will think carefully about his choice of genre for future work.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/05/finale-on-the-nyt-mag-airplane-in-peril-story/276427/