On October 1, 2015, Hurricane Joaquin barreled into the Bermuda Triangle and swallowed the container ship El Faro whole, resulting in the worst American shipping disaster in thirty-five years. No one could fathom how a vessel equipped with satellite communications, a sophisticated navigation system, and cutting-edge weather forecasting could suddenly vanish—until now.
Rachel Slade’s Into the Raging Sea is both a gripping account of the final voyage of El Faro, a cargo ship that sank in Hurricane Joaquin in 2015, and a moving portrait of many of the lives lost in the disaster, including those of four Mainers. If Slade’s book had done nothing other than tell the tale of this horrific event, it would have been gripping enough. But there’s another aspect to Into the Raging Sea, which places the disaster in an entirely different context and infuses a weighty subject with righteous anger ... Slade meticulously explores the cut corners and cost-saving measures that, had they not been implemented, could have meant a different outcome for El Faro ... Slade has followed these events for some time...that familiarity shows: She deftly conveys a number of complex interpersonal and inter-agency relationships ... It’s a staunchly humanistic work, adroitly told, with a wide emotional range that incorporates both a sense of loss and a call for change.
Slade did not have to resort to reasonable inference and guesswork about the vessel’s final moments. She was able to quote the actual words spoken on the bridge. The mundane remarks about the fetching of coffee, the complaints about the company, the jokes, the giving and taking of routine orders and the wistful asides about home, children and spouses left behind — these details paint a poignant and tragic picture of ordinary people heading to their deaths ... The book tells of the heroic search-and-rescue operations, the hunt for the black box, the investigations and hearings and the nature of hurricanes. It chronicles the despicable reactions of Tote and its upper management to the tragedy. The pusillanimous, corporate-speak testimony of several corporate executives is quoted at length — perhaps at too great a length. But one can’t help reading it, page after page, in disbelief and disgust.
Slade tells this sad story with enormous energy and quotable inventiveness. Her long experience as a journalist shows on every page of her account, with her prose bringing every aspect of the El Faro saga to colorful life. Her descriptions of the natural world of the scenario are uniformly fantastic.