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For the week of January 3 through January 9, 2001

‘At Fault’ hits the shelves

Angus MacDonald brings his new novel to the Gail Severn Gallery.

Express Arts Editor

There can be few disasters more terrifying than an airliner slamming into a high rise building. And sorting out the blame for such a disaster is no doubt a torturous process.

Such is the premise of a new novel by Angus MacDonald entitled, At Fault. MacDonald, who is visiting the area over the holidays, will hold a book signing tonight from 5 to 7 at the Gail Severn Gallery in Ketchum. The signing is sponsored by Chapter One Bookstore, Gail Severn Gallery, and Geri and John Herbert.

MacDonald’s narrative traces the experiences of a guilt-wracked engineer, his boss and a National Transportation Safety Board official as the public and politicians cry out for blame to be assigned.

In a recent telephone interview, MacDonald said the idea for the book may have been planted in his mind many years ago. He remembers seeing pictures of a small plane that had smashed into the 72nd floor of the Empire State Building. One of the plane’s engines punched right through the building, slicing the elevator cable on its way. A woman was in the elevator at the time.

"That was a small plane. I’ve always wondered what would happen if a 300,000 pound, fully loaded 747 hit a building, especially considering most of the buildings these days have curtain wall construction."

To this end, MacDonald drew on the research work of two MIT students who modeled such an event. He also spent a good deal of time at the NTSB going through their records in preparing to write the book.

MacDonald said one of his biggest challenges in writing the book was making it understandable to the average reader. He wanted to include technical information without putting off readers lacking a technical background.

"The reason I wrote the book is I have a deep belief in the humanity of technology. Men and women’s minds are truly embedded in technology," MacDonald said. While the book does start with the crash, MacDonald said it is really about "what happens to the three lives [involved in the search for blame]. After the crash is the real drama."

MacDonald, who lives in Connecticut but frequently visits the Wood River Valley, holds degrees in aeronautical and mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is a Life Trustee of that institution. He also worked as staff engineer on the secret Nuclear Energy for the Propulsion of Aircraft project in Oak Ridge, Tenn. Drawing on his knowledge and experience, MacDonald has created a fictional account that examines corporate responsibilities, political morality and personal integrity in the aftermath of a crash.

Asked if he had ever had a close call in a plane, MacDonald said no. He pointed out that the accident rate has remained fairly constant, and may have even gone down over time. The problem is that the number of flights and people flying has gone up so dramatically that even with a constant accident rate, the frequency of plane crashes will necessarily increase.

And in case you are wondering, yes, MacDonald has recently sold the movie rights to the novel.

The Gail Severn Gallery is located at 400 First Ave. N. in Ketchum. Wine and hors d’hoevres will be served at the signing. For more information call Geri Herbert at 726-9448.


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