Joe Sharkey, travel writer who survived mid-air collision, dies at 77 | ET REALITY


Joe Sharkey, who gave pragmatic advice to business travelers in hundreds of columns in The New York Times only to find himself at the center of a terrible disaster in 2006, when the executive jet he was flying collided with a Boeing 737 over Brazil. , he died on November 6 at his home in Tucson, Arizona. He was 77 years old.

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 Friday, September 29, 2006, when the plane severed a wing and tail of the Embraer Legacy 600 carrying him, four other passengers and two-man crew at 37,000 feet above the Amazon rainforest.

The executive jet managed to land safely at a remote military airport, but the Gol Linhas Aereas airliner it collided with did not have such a fortunate fate: it plummeted to the ground, killing all 154 people on board. It was the deadliest civil aviation accident in Brazil at the time.

The collision prompted investigations by the Brazilian military and American transportation safety investigators. Both blamed air traffic controllers, but never fully resolved who was to blame or why the planes were flying at the same altitude.

Sharkey had been writing the weekly “On the Road” column for the Times’ business travel pages when he delivered a vivid first-person account of the collision. He took it to the front page the following Tuesday under the headline “Clash Death at 37,000 Feet and Survive.”

“Without warning, I felt a terrible jolt and heard a loud bang, followed by an eerie silence except for the hum of the engines,” Sharkey wrote. “And then the three words I will never forget. “They’ve hit us,” said Henry Yandle, a fellow passenger who was standing in the aisle near the cockpit of the Embraer Legacy 600 plane.

He added: “The sky was clear; the sun low in the sky. The rainforest continued forever. But there, at the end of the wing, was a jagged ridge, maybe a foot high, where the five-foot-high wing was supposed to be.

“And thus began the most heartbreaking 30 minutes of my life,” he continued. “Over the next few days I would be told over and over again that no one survives a mid-air collision. “I was lucky to be alive.” Only later did she learn that everyone on board the Boeing 737 had died.

“I thought about my family,” he wrote. “There was no point in reaching for my cell phone to try to make a call: there was no signal. And as our hopes sank with the sun, some of us wrote notes to our spouses and loved ones and kept them in our wallets, hoping they would find them later.”

His traveling companions included executives from Embraer, the plane’s Brazilian manufacturer, as well as ExcelAire, the charter company transporting the plane to its base on Long Island.

Mr. Sharkey’s weekly columns, filled with personal insights, were popular for offering practical strategies to make business travel, by any mode of transportation, more convenient.

He compared the advantages of taking Amtrak to those of booking short flights in the Northeast Corridor; He reported that more and more companies with limited budgets were having their employees share hotel rooms; wrote about cruise lines’ efforts to attract business travelers; and gave tips on how to get through airport security quickly.

“Although Sharkey’s columns are more interested in the functional operations of air travel,” Christopher Schaberg wrote in “The Textual Life of Airports: Reading the Culture of Flight” (2012), “his appeal to literary form is revealing: Sharkey casts The Airport as a textual space, a place of performance that demands to be interpreted.”

Joseph Michael Sharkey was born on October 15, 1946 in Philadelphia. His mother, Marcella (Welch) Sharkey, was a supervisor at JC Penny. His father, Joseph C. Sharkey, was a shift supervisor for Philadelphia Electric Company and a consultant for the company’s nuclear power plant.

Joe attended Pennsylvania State University, majoring in English. He was the first in his family to attend college, but, due to lack of money, he did not graduate. Instead, he enlisted in the Navy. After appealing to the base chaplain during basic training to be transferred to a less dangerous job than catching the tailhook of planes landing on an aircraft carrier, he was assigned as a journalist to the Navy News Service in Vietnam. .

His marriage to Carolynne White ended in divorce in 1982. He married Nancy J. Albaugh in 1985. In addition to his wife, he is survived by his children from his first marriage, Dr. Caroline N. Sharkey, Lisa Stone and Christopher Sharkey; his siblings, Eileen O’Hara, Susan Palmer and Thomas, Edward and Michael Sharkey; five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Before joining The Times, Sharkey was a reporter and columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer; the executive city editor of The Times-Union in Albany, New York; and assistant national editor of The Wall Street Journal.

He wrote a weekly “Jersey” column for three years for The Times before launching his business travel column in 1999, which he wrote for 16 years until he retired in 2015. He continued to write a inline column.

Mr. Sharkey also authored one novel and five nonfiction crime books, one of which, “Above Suspicion: An Undercover FBI Agent, an Illicit Affair, and a Murder of Passion” (1993), was adapted to a film released in 2021.

Leave a Comment