Forty years ago today ALM Flight 980 made aviation history

It was May 2, 1970. A DC-9 with 57 passengers and a crew of 6 left New York en route to the tropical island of St. Maarten. They never made it to their destination. Instead, the passengers and crew were thrust into a life and death struggle for survival as their plane ran out of fuel and was forced to ditch in the Caribbean Sea.

 SH3A2Ten years ago today I sat down with one of the navy pilots who was involved in the rescue of passengers and listened to his amazing story. His name was Jim Rylee. He flew a helicopter like the one to the left. Jim passed away a few years ago. He never got to read the manuscript that told his story.

Jim's story is just one of many amazing stories I came across while conducting research for my book 35 Miles From Shore. Compiling all of the various recollections of survivors, rescuers, and investigators took nearly five years.

When the accident happened in 1970, it didn't get a whole lot of attention. This was way before satellite news, USA Today, and the Internet. Details were sketchy and often wrong.

The Kentucky Derby was the big story that day. Then two days later four students were killed by National Guardsman at Kent State university and the story of ALM 980 was lost forever. Well, it was lost until I stumbled across it.

I am glad I was able to bring this story to a wider audience. Not only did I get to meet some interesting people, I made a few life-long friends in the process.I still hear from many of the people I interviewed. Family members and relatives of passengers stay in touch. Yesterday I heard from the niece of one of the passengers who did not survive. She was twenty at the time of the accident and talking about it even now after all these years brings back strong emotions. Her Aunt is one of the twenty-two people who remain missing to this day.

So if by chance you've stumbled across this post and want to learn more. I encourage you to visit the book's website at You'll get a chance to see and hear from some of the people involved in this dramatic story.

So for the missing and those who have passed away since the accident, you are not forgotten. Your story is spreading little by little.


  1. Chris Bidlack says

    Finished reading “35 Miles From Shore” last week. Great read, very interesting. My thoughts are with the passengers and crew of ALM 980 today, those who made it and those who didn’t.

  2. Elli Maia says

    Hi, I’m a little confused, how does a man who kills 23 passengers through reckless endangerment end up a local hero? Did you actually read the accident report? I did after I received news of my Aunty’s untimely and avoidable death. I will not be reading this book because I do not believe that a person who has killed others should benefit. Also after having the displeasure of knowing Mr Dewitt for many years, his arrogance and refusal to accept responsibility underlies why such an accident happened in the first place.

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