Tuesday, March 19, 2013

An inspiring book by a former Northwest Airlines pilot

Every time I visit the Speakeasy Restaurant, located just across the river from Fargo in Moorhead, Minnesota, I can't help but think of the three Northwest Airlines (now Delta) pilots who got drunk there. on March 7, 1990. That evening and its aftermath have been documented in an inspiring book I just read. I couldn't put it down; in fact, this book kept me up last night turning pages on my Kindle.

The book is called Flying Drunk: The True Story of a Northwest Airlines Flight, Three Drunk Pilots, and One Man's Fight for Redemption by Joseph Balzer (published in 2009 by Sava Beatie, LLC, New York). The author was the flight engineer on that infamous Northwest flight. He was about to become a full-fledged pilot for the airline; this incident ruined that chance and could have crashed Balzer's life. But it didn't. And that's what this book is about: the incident itself, what happened to the crew, and what the former Northwest flight engineer did about his extremely sad situation.

No news report ever gave me such an eloquent, detailed description of what happened at the Speakeasy Restaurant that evening. It was one of the diners at the restaurant who called the Federal Aviation Administration alerting the agency to all the drinking these pilots were doing the night before a 6:00 AM Fargo departure.

Balzer writes about this alcoholism and how he got control of it; about his time in federal prison (and not just in a white collar prison "camp," but behind the concrete walls of the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary). It's a tragedy, but an inspiring one. He writes about the bad decision he made at the Fargo airport and the consequences he had to pay for his behavior. But he tells lots of good stuff too, and I found my eyes welling-up as he was helped by certain people and by his amazing perseverance, despite one setback after another.

Balzer gives a perceptive description of what alcoholism is and how he went about dealing with it--successfully. Today, he's an American Airlines captain.

If you don't recall the incident, here's a quick history: On March 8, 1990, an intoxicated three-man crew, including the author (Flight Engineer Balzer), flew a Northwest Airlines Boeing 727 with 91 passengers aboard from Fargo, North Dakota to Minneapolis, Minnesota. It was at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport that all three were confronted by FAA officials and taken to a hospital for blood alcohol tests. They all failed those tests.

On July 25, 1990, all three pilots stood trial for flying a commercial airliner under the influence of alcohol; all three were convicted and sent to federal prison.

From July 26, 1990, to the present time, Joe Balzer fought for redemption and to regain what he could from what he lost; Flying Drunk is his story. I'm sure there are many AA success stories out there and this is certainly one of them.

This book is available in print or for the Kindle from Amazon. I bought the Kindle version for only $2.99. You can find out more about new and used print editions as well as the electronic edition through the Amazon link below: