Review of 13,760 feet: My Personal Hole in the Sky by Mark L. Berry
On July 17, 1996, TWA 800 experienced a center fuel tank explosion at 13,760 feet during its climb out of New York’s JFK airport. On board the flight was the author’s fiancé Susanne Jensen. Mark is also a pilot and at the time was employed by TWA. Thus begins this excellent memoir about dealing with tragedy and a life in aviation. The book expertly alternates chapters between the loss of Mark’s fiancé and his climb from wannabe pilot to airline captain.
Mark and I both flew for TWA and currently fly for the same airline, though we have never met. Like me, Mark came up through the civilian aviation ranks. We both had a strong determination at an early age to want to fly professionally. Even though we took different paths to the cockpit of a major airline, there were also numerous similarities. I found myself laughing out loud numerous times while reading the book as his stories brought back my own memories. One story involved a prank that he and his fellow crew member played on a young flight attendant. The prank required an extensive setup, but the end result was a flight attendant jumping up and down in the center aisle of the small regional plane in order to get a supposedly “stuck” landing gear unstuck. Mark and I flew for different regional airlines, but I remember this exact same prank at our airline. Another prank that we liked to play on new flight attendants was to hand them a note with the name Hugh Jass written on it. We would hand the unsuspecting flight attendant the note and ask her to please make an announcement over the PA that we need to speak to this passenger immediately. The flight attendant would then dutifully get on the PA and start asking for “passenger Hugh Jass.” No matter how clearly she might try to say it, it always came out as passenger “huge ass” over the PA.
While there are plenty of examples of humorous stories, there is no shortage of touching stories, such as when five-year old Mark loses his baby brother to SIDS. The young Mark wonders why his baby brother couldn’t learn to breath. I especially enjoyed reading the chapters dealing with Mark’s relationship with Susanne. The story of how he proposed to Susanne is especially memorable. I also enjoyed his many globe-trotting stories.
This two-memoirs-in-one will appeal to anyone dealing with the loss of a loved one, as well as anyone contemplating or already in a career in aviation. Even if you don’t fall into those two categories, this book is worth your time. It is beautifully written, and as good of memoir as you’re likely to find.
I read the book on my Kindle. The audio book contains original songs that accompany the book. I’m listening to the songs right now on mark’s website www.marklberry.com as I write this review. The Kindle version contains lyrics interspersed throughout the book. I found the lyrics a little distracting, but I give Mark credit for trying something different.