Joe Sharkey, who delivered pragmatic advice to business travelers in hundreds of columns in The New York Times only to find himself at the focal point of a harrowing disaster in 2006, when the executive jet in which he was flying collided with a Boeing 737 over Brazil, died on Nov. 6 at his home in Tucson, Ariz. He was 77.
The cause was a hypertensive stroke, said his wife, Nancy Sharkey, a retired Times editor.
Mr. Sharkey was returning home from a freelance assignment for Business Jet Traveler magazine on Sept. 29, 2006, a Friday, when the jetliner clipped a wing and the tail of the Embraer Legacy 600 that was carrying him, four other passengers and a two-man crew at 37,000 feet over the Amazon rainforest.
The executive jet managed to land safely at a remote military airport, but the Gol Linhas Aéreas commercial airliner it collided with did not have such a fortunate fate: It nose-dived to the ground, killing all 154 people on board. It was the deadliest civilian aviation accident in Brazil at the time.
The collision prompted inquiries by Brazil’s military and by American transportation safety investigators. Both placed blame on air traffic controllers but never fully resolved who was at fault or why the planes were flying at the same altitude.
Mr. Sharkey had been writing the weekly “On the Road” column for The Times’s business-travel pages when he turned in a vivid first-person account of the collision. It vaulted him onto the front page the following Tuesday under the headline “Colliding With Death at 37,000 Feet, and Living.”
“Without warning, I felt a terrific jolt and heard a loud bang, followed by an eerie silence, save for the hum of the engines,” Mr. Sharkey wrote. “And then the three words I will never forget. ‘We’ve been hit,’ said Henry Yandle, a fellow passenger standing in the aisle near the cockpit of the Embraer Legacy 600 jet.”
He added: “The sky was clear; the sun low in the sky. The rainforest went on forever. But there, at the end of the wing, was a jagged ridge, perhaps a foot high, where the five-foot-tall winglet was supposed to be.
“And so began the most harrowing 30 minutes of my life,” he continued. “I would be told time and again in the next few days that nobody ever survives a midair collision. I was lucky to be alive.” Only later did he learn that everyone aboard the Boeing 737 had died.
“I thought of my family,” he wrote. “There was no point reaching for my cellphone to try a call — there was no signal. And as our hopes sank with the sun, some of us jotted notes to spouses and loved ones and placed them in our wallets, hoping the notes would later be found.”
His fellow passengers included executives from Embraer, the Brazilian manufacturer of the plane, as well as
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A sweeping storm system is impacting much of the United States on this, the final day of the busy Thanksgiving holiday travel weekend. Nearly 14 million people found themselves under various winter weather alerts on Sunday, according to The New York Times.
This past Friday, November 17, marked the official start of the Thanksgiving travel period, a 12-day stretch during which the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) anticipates that it will screen a record 30 million passengers this year. And unfortunately, the period that typically sees the busiest travel days of the year comes just as a major storm is gaining momentum across much of the eastern half of the United States.
Airfares to many popular destinations have recently fallen to their lowest levels in months, and even holiday travel is far cheaper than it was last year, providing some welcome relief to consumers who have been frustrated for months by high prices for all manner of goods and services.
Thanksgiving may come with a heaping side of travel headaches this year. In its annual travel forecast, the American Automobile Association (AAA) predicts that 55.4 million people—2.3 percent more than last year—will venture more than 50 miles from home this year. (The forecast tracks trends during the five-day period from the Wednesday before the holiday through the Sunday after.) To put this into perspective, it marks the third busiest year since the association started tracking data in 2000.
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