Story of the Week: Colliding With Death at 37,000 Feet, and Living

A word of warning first: Anyone with even the slightest fear of flying should avoid the following story.

Today's story is "Colliding With Death at 37,000 Feet, and Living" by Joe Sharkey, published in the New York Times. Sharkey is a journeyman writer who has penned the “On the Road” column for the Times' business-travel section every week for seven years. Over the years I've enjoyed a number of his columns because Sharkey writes as one should write for his intended business audience: descriptively, accurately, and to the point. This style enables Sharkey to condense and distill the overload of sensations one has when travelling into a readable, and useful, column.

In "Colliding With Death at 37,000 Feet, and Living", Sharkey recounts a harrowing flight he took a few days ago on a corporate jet. Sharkey was working on a freelance article for Business Jet Traveler magazine when the Embraer 600 he rode on clipped a passing Boeing 737 at 37,000 feet. As Sharkey states, people rarely survive mid-air collisions. His descriptions of how he and his fellow passengers survived--through extreme luck and the hard work of their two pilots--will leave readers gripping their seats.

Sharkey's writing style is perfect for this article. Where a so-called more literary writer would have tried to plumb the depths of human emotions--and would likely have ended with an unintended parody of the whole affair--Sharkey's factual and descriptive account perfectly renders the humanity and fear he and his fellow passengers endured. When Sharkey and the other survivors learn that all 155 people aboard the 737 that hit them died, he perfectly expresses the pain and horror felt by himself and the others on his plane.

A writer once told me that the simplest rule of writing is when you don't have a good story to tell, use plenty of fancy language to express it. However, when you have a good story, simply tell it and let the story speak for itself. Sharkey truly understands this rule.

Read the story.