It's about forty minutes into the flight when Russell Gathreaux begins to smell a strange, acrid odor
permeating the cabin. The pilots - thinking that it's a problem with the air-conditioning system - tell the passengers to sit tight. Suddenly the entire cabin falls dark, and the in-flight entertainment system flickers and dies.
A strange, silvery light pours through the plane, "lathing the aisles in a luminous, oddly peaceful glow." The woman sitting next to Russell, a Bulgarian cellist, asks him what is wrong. Passengers begin to grow restless and uneasy; there's a certain edgy movement in the air.
The nose dips downward and the plane starts sinking fast. Smoke seeps in slowly and Russell smells burning plastic. Someone throws up. The cabin rattles, the bulkhead shakes, and the overhead bins pop open. Twenty minutes later the aircraft plunges into the sea about twenty miles from Trachis Island, just off the coast of Nova Scotia.
American innkeeper Kevin Gearns - who moved to the picaresque island several years ago with his long-term partner, Douglas – will always remember what he saw that night, two, three miles offshore: "the bottom of a fuselage lit up in a ghastly red glow, enormous, groaning, something not meant to be there, that low, in that place."
Ana, Russell's ornithologist wife, is living in New York at the time of the crash.
She's devastated when she learns the truth. Along with the other relatives of the victims, she arrives on Trachis Island, hoping - despite evidence
to the contrary - that Russell might somehow be alive.
Diana Olmstead mourns her sister, grieving for her and all the others in the
last terrifying moments of their lives, and for those they've left behind. Claartija, a young Dutch girl and her brother, have lost their parents. Mr. and Mrs. Liang, an elderly Chinese couple, mourn their only daughter. Pars, an Iranian man who has lost his niece, forms a close connection
They have all come to see the ocean and the wreckage, perhaps also to see what isn't visible. Kevin tries to comfort them but is unable to erase the image of what he's seen from his head, "nor the horrendous crunching sound." Douglas is no help. Ever since the crash, he's been galvanized into action, preferring to spend his days at the
government dock, working side-by-side with the search and rescue volunteers.
As the days wear on, Kevin refuses to even discuss the crash, complaining about all the things Douglas isn't helping with. No doubt these people have come to Trachis Island for closure, but for Kevin it seems as if nothing will ever close, "that it was all just opening a wound, barely begun."
Clearly inspired by Swiss Air Flight 111, which crashed off the coast of Nova Scotia in 1998, author Brad Kessler, in truly beautiful prose, translates the human condition – life, death and rebirth – sensitively bringing forth the aftermath of this terrible accident. His characters are damaged and bereaved, and in addition, haunted by visions of their lost relatives. The healing process has only just begun.
For most, life goes on as before because it has to, but the event causes all these people to cling to the delicate recollections of that deceptively calm and moonlit night, even five years on. Inserting into his story Greek myths and legends and paralleling the lives of the victims with the world of avian migration, Kessler has is indeed written an exquisite, deeply moving portrait of loss and personal heartache.