Cleared for disaster

Cleared for disaster
by Michael O’Toole

Mercier 2006, ISBN 85635 510 1, €12.99

The book was published by the widow of the author who was a prominent journalist a few years after his death. There is no doubt that it has been well worth publishing. While I had heard of many of the 11 incidents mentioned in Cleared for Disaster I had been completely unaware of the others. There seems to be something less permanent about aircraft disasters compared with their shipping counterpart. The stories are told with a feeling for the urgency of the situation and a compassion for the suffering of the passengers and crew involved. There is a wealth of hard information in the stories and indeed lessons learned the hard way. It is incredible that despite misgivings at Shannon that rescue efforts did not commence on the suspicion of problems. It speaks of a more authoritarian age when somebody knew best and a mere minion could not be right. The inquiry around the St Phelim disaster also reflects an age of the cover up and dismissal of evidence that did not fit the official records. The stories of the aircraft losses reflect badly on a society that set little store on the lives of exotic foreigners involved in the adventure that was aviation in the 1950s. Perhaps this explains why the accounts do not survive in the folk memory. I recall in the early 1960s picking up a piece of plastic on a beach on the Shannon and being told maybe it was from one of the planes. But there was no more information it was not a matter that affected normal life and plane crashes were part of another world. This book adds greatly to the genre of Irish maritime history. Maybe this book needs to be studied by those in marine surveillance so that they would be more vigilant or indeed more aware of the possibilities when a trawler disappears from an electronic monitoring system. Mercier continues to do service as publisher of a valuable genre of books of Irish interest

reviewed by Eddie Bourke

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