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Joe Sharkey, Travel Writer Who Survived Midair Collision, Dies at 77

Joe Sharkey, the renowned travel writer known for providing indispensable advice to business travelers, has tragically passed away at the age of 77. However, it was not just his expertise in navigating the intricacies of travel that made Sharkey a prominent figure. In 2006, he found himself at the heart of a terrifying midair collision between an executive jet and a Boeing 737 over Brazil, an experience which he vividly recounted in a front-page article for The New York Times. This article explores Sharkey’s remarkable life, his survival of the collision, and his enduring legacy as a respected travel writer.


Introduction to Joe Sharkey

Joe Sharkey was a renowned travel writer known for his pragmatic advice to business travelers. He wrote hundreds of columns for The New York Times, offering personal insights and practical strategies to make business travel more convenient. His columns were popular among readers, earning him a dedicated following.

The midair collision incident

In 2006, Joe Sharkey found himself at the center of a harrowing disaster when the executive jet he was flying in collided midair with a Boeing 737 over Brazil. He was returning home from a freelance assignment when the collision occurred at 37,000 feet over the Amazon rainforest. The executive jet managed to land safely, but the Boeing 737 tragically crashed, resulting in the death of all 154 people on board.

Investigations and unresolved questions

Following the midair collision incident, investigations were conducted by both Brazilian military officials and American transportation safety investigators. The blame was placed on air traffic controllers, but the question of who was truly at fault and why the planes were flying at the same altitude remains unresolved. This incident marked a turning point in Joe Sharkey’s life and career.

Career as a Travel Writer

Joe Sharkey’s popular column in The New York Times

Joe Sharkey became well-known for his column “On the Road,” which he wrote for The New York Times. The column, featured in the newspaper’s business-travel pages, offered practical advice and personal insights to business travelers. His writing resonated with readers, who appreciated his tips and strategies for navigating various modes of transportation.

Topics covered in Sharkey’s columns

Sharkey covered a wide range of topics in his columns, catering to the needs and interests of business travelers. He compared the advantages of different modes of transportation, such as Amtrak and short flights in the Northeast Corridor. He also explored trends in business travel, such as the rise of shared hotel rooms and efforts by cruise ship lines to attract business travelers. Additionally, he provided tips on how to navigate airport security and make the travel experience more efficient.

Literary approach in Sharkey’s writing

Despite focusing on the functional aspects of air travel, Joe Sharkey often incorporated literary elements into his writing. He saw airports as textual spaces that demanded interpretation, infusing his columns with storytelling techniques and narrative flair. This unique literary approach set his writing apart and captivated readers.

Early Life and Education

Family background of Joe Sharkey

Joe Sharkey was born on October 15, 1946, in Philadelphia. His mother, Marcella Sharkey, worked as a supervisor for J.C. Penny, while his father, Joseph C. Sharkey, was a shift supervisor for the Philadelphia Electric Company. Growing up in a working-class family, Sharkey learned the value of hard work and determination from an early age.

Enlistment in the Navy

After attending Pennsylvania State University, where he majored in English, Joe Sharkey enlisted in the Navy. He appealed for a transfer to a less perilous job during basic training and was assigned as a journalist to the Navy News Service in Vietnam. This experience laid the foundation for his later career in journalism.

Journalistic career in Vietnam

During his time in Vietnam, Joe Sharkey worked as a journalist for the Navy News Service. This role allowed him to hone his writing skills and gain valuable experience in reporting. His time in Vietnam shaped his understanding of the power of storytelling and its ability to captivate audiences.

Personal Life

Marriages and family

Joe Sharkey had two marriages throughout his life. His first marriage to Carolynne White ended in divorce in 1982. In 1985, he married Nancy J. Albaugh. His personal life provided him with support and love, allowing him to navigate the challenges of his career with the comfort of a stable home life.

Surviving family members

Joe Sharkey is survived by his wife, Nancy Sharkey, a retired Times editor. He also leaves behind his children from his first marriage, Dr. Caroline N. Sharkey, Lisa Stone, and Christopher Sharkey. Additionally, he is survived by his siblings, Eileen O’Hara, Susan Palmer, and Thomas, Edward, and Michael Sharkey. His legacy lives on through his loving family.

Career Highlights

Work at The Philadelphia Inquirer

Before joining The New York Times, Joe Sharkey worked as a reporter and columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer. His time at this esteemed publication helped shape his journalistic skills and laid the foundation for his future success as a travel writer.

Roles at The Times-Union and The Wall Street Journal

After his stint at The Philadelphia Inquirer, Sharkey served as the executive city editor of The Times-Union in Albany, New York. He later became an assistant national editor at The Wall Street Journal, further establishing himself as a respected journalist within the industry.

Launch of ‘On the Road’ column in 1999

In 1999, Joe Sharkey launched his iconic “On the Road” column in The New York Times. This column became his most prominent and enduring body of work, attracting a dedicated readership and solidifying his reputation as a travel writer. For 16 years, Sharkey provided insightful advice and guidance to business travelers through this column.

Continuation of writing career after retirement

Even after retiring from The New York Times in 2015, Joe Sharkey continued to write and share his expertise in the field of travel. He wrote a column online, allowing him to maintain a connection with his readers and continue offering valuable insights.

Writing Achievements

Novel and crime book publications

In addition to his work as a travel writer, Joe Sharkey published a novel and five nonfiction crime books throughout his career. His book “Above Suspicion: An Undercover FBI Agent, an Illicit Affair, and a Murder of Passion” was adapted into a film released in 2021. His writing reached beyond the realm of travel, showcasing his versatility and storytelling ability.

Film adaptation of ‘Above Suspicion’

Joe Sharkey’s book “Above Suspicion” had a significant impact, as it was adapted into a film. The book’s compelling story and Sharkey’s skillful writing captivated audiences, leading to its successful adaptation for the big screen.

Recognition and awards

Throughout his career, Joe Sharkey received recognition and awards for his exceptional writing. His work garnered critical acclaim and earned him the respect of his peers in the industry. The recognition served as a testament to his dedication and talent as a writer.

Obituary and Legacy

Death and cause

Joe Sharkey passed away on November 6 at the age of 77. The cause of his death was a hypertensive stroke. His departure marked the end of a remarkable career and left a void in the world of travel writing.

Impact and influence of Joe Sharkey’s work

Joe Sharkey’s work as a travel writer and journalist left a lasting impact on the industry. His columns in The New York Times provided valuable guidance and practical advice to countless business travelers. His unique writing style, incorporating literary elements into his travel writing, inspired future generations of writers.

Remembering Joe Sharkey

As Joe Sharkey’s loved ones mourn his loss, they also celebrate his legacy. His writing will continue to inspire and educate, reminding readers of the enduring power of storytelling. Joe Sharkey’s contributions to travel writing will be remembered and cherished for years to come.