“Six men lost their lives in a plane crash. Four men found theirs.”
One part documentary, one part faith and three parts hope, “Into the Abyss – A True Story by Carol Shaben” is a story with a purpose. It is not really even a story to begin with, but rather a tangible proof of every individual’s first plane-ride phobia come to life. It is a rather ironic narrative, because what are the odds of your plane actually falling down from the sky, even though it’s not an uncommon headline?
The narrative revolves largely around the lives of the survivors of the Wapiti Aviation Flight 402 crash, both before and after the crash. The four survivors, namely Erik Vogel – the pilot of the plane, Larry Shaben – a prominent politician, Paul Archambault – an accused criminal, and the cop escorting Paul Archambault to face charges – Scott Deschamps. The almost staged combination of characters makes for a tale that softens the line between fact and fiction and leaves you both smiling and sighing at the uncertainties of life. It is the heart and hope of the survivors, especially Paul Archambault, the night in the wilderness after the crash that makes up for the larger than life narrative of the book. It is this very hope that helps restore peace in chaos and a touch of humanity in first perceptions of an accused criminal.
“Into the Abyss” is subtle with its heartbreaks. But then again, even a paper cut is subtle,and we all know what that feels like. It does not overlook or in any way take for granted the gravity of the loss in the adversity, because if four passengers survived, six passengers also lost their lives that night. The narrative pertaining to the dead is in fact so gentle that it makes you hope against all odds for their survival. But that’s the thing about true stories, isn’t it? They don’t wait around to pay attention to your favourites, and there is just no concept of fair and foul. Fate isn’t a game for the faint hearted and the narrative of “Into the Abyss” reminds you just that every step of the way – be it through the death of a mother travelling back to her 14 children or the accused criminal being forced to board an aircraft just days after the crash to be tried for his previous accusations.
As emotional a narrative as it may be, however, it is important not to forget that the book is still a tale with a purpose. Probably the most crucial aspect of this book, that tends to get undermined in the intensity of the plot, is the author herself. Carol Shaben is stuck somewhere in between where the actual story is concerned – she is neither in it, nor totally unaffected by it. While she has no first hand experience in surviving a plane crash, she has more than enough experience in everything that happened after. She is the most important connection in this tale because all the changes in her life are directly dependent on the changes in her father, Larry Shaben – a fact that allows our narrator to analyse an event like this with the right fractions of emotion and rationality. Through her words, not only do we witness the triumph of hope even in the bleakest of situations, but also get a much-needed insight into the real cause of the crash – the utter disregard of safety standards and in turn, lack of value for human life both by Transport Canada as well as Wapiti Aviation. Complex information about the depth of inadequacies and the kind of pressure faced by both organisations has been carefully intertwined in the narrative, and while the plot fails to stand in a position to offer a solution for the loss of human lives as pawns in a chess games, it opens up a space for discussion for its newly educated audience and ignites a hope for betterment.
All in all, “Into the Abyss” is a story that leaves you cathartic. It is a little more prolonged than required, but you’d expect emotions to sway reason and logic when the plot is as personal. Centered around something you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemies, the narrative is capable of giving you sleepless nights, several in a row. And that’s what’s so important about it, to be honest, because nobody deserves to sleep peacefully in a world where lives fall like dominoes. And it’s these very sleepless nights that will spark a desire for change, and a desire to actually work for that change. So it’s probably accurate to consider this story as a Silver Lining, because bleak as the plot may be, it’s so positive in its potential to evolve into a catalyst for a more considerate, compassionate and conscious world.