The story

In 1992 a commercial aircraft carrying thirty-one people left Ho Chi Minh City for the beach resort Nha Trang. Two passengers were headed for a romantic getaway, unaware of the fateful moment that would shatter their dreams forever. The plane crashed into a mountaintop enclosed by the Vietnamese jungle, leaving Annette Herfkens trapped in the wilderness as the sole survivor. When she awoke, battered and suffering from numerous wounds, she faced her dead mate and was hardly able to move. What followed was an incredible story of survival, mystery and higher spirit.

Map of crash location
Front cover of Turbulence

The book

If you think that surviving an airplane crash will get you a free pass for the rest of your life, think again.

In this fearless tale of life, Annette Herfkens describes how she took all the right steps to survive eight days alone in the Vietnamese jungle, sustaining herself with only rainwater. She takes us on the journey her mind made while her body was stuck on the jungle floor, resulting in a beautifully described shift of consciousness and near death experience. She also weaves in flashbacks to the high flying life in international finance she was so violently removed from. Annette goes on to explain her miraculous rescue and how she managed to rebuild her life, resume her career, and find love again.

In the second part of the book, Annette returns to Vietnam to climb the mountain where she faced death. Her second journey re-opens her past and sheds light on the mysteries that lingered since the crash. She shows that life can indeed be stranger than fiction. Through flashbacks Annette shares how she used the lessons learned in the Vietnamese jungle on New York’s Upper East Side to transcend the diagnosis of her autistic son. Whereas the jungle showed her how to transcend through spirituality, he opened her eyes and heart to compassion and unconditional love.

This inspiring book breaks as many boundaries as the protagonist herself. A keen observer, Annette writes with frank and acerbic humor about loss, love, resilience, and spirituality in a fresh, down-to-earth manner. Her book gives us the ultimate insight into the mind and heart of a true survivor.

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Deepak Chopra

In Turbulence, Annette Herfkens puts spiritual insights and teachings into practice. She describes both effortless and mindful transformation of consciousness in a concise and compelling way.

Mary Sue Rosen, Author of Africa Written Down

Turbulence is a stunning memoir of courage and love…. many stories within stories.  Annette Herfkens artfully renders her experiences as a sole survivor of a plane crash in Vietnam, enduring the loss of her fiancé, to the convergence of a fascinating career in international business.  Writing with honesty and wit of the many challenges facing her as a wife and mother and professional woman in the business world, her indomitable spirit inspires.


Kirkus Reviews

In her debut, Herfkens tells the story of being the only survivor of a 1992 small-plane crash in Vietnam.

The author was reluctant to board a small plane with Willem, her boyfriend of 13 years, because of her claustrophobia. But her situation became more desperate than she could have imagined: The plane crashed in the jungle, killing her fiance and leaving her all alone—and, due to injuries, barely able to move. She survived on rainwater for eight days before she was finally rescued, but resuming her life in the wake of the tragedy proved to be just as much of a struggle. Throughout this memoir, the author employs an effective style: The story unfolds chronologically, intercut with earlier events—her days in the jungle, for example, are juxtaposed with her budding romance with Willem and her college internship in Chile. This device intermittently relieves the tension of her harrowing time in the jungle, which was marked by endless pain. It also makes the story more poignant by showing Willem and Annette’s plans for a future, including the
possibility of marriage. She uses the same technique with equal potency later, when she returns to the crash site in 2005, a cathartic decision offset by the circumstances of her home life; at the time, she and her husband were unemployed and raising an autistic child. At one point, the author cites her preference for simply telling her story and letting readers interpret it on their own, and she does this with dexterity, memorably describing experiences such as lying in the wrecked plane and seeing her exposed shin bone, “Like a page in a biology book.” The book is also filled with inspiring, encouraging moments, as when Jaime, her friend and colleague, heads for Vietnam to find her; he refuses to take dental records to potentially identify a body and instead takes her hairbrush. “She might need it,” he says. Overall, the author offers a great deal of relatable insight into her experience, at one point stating quite profoundly: “Happiness is not having what you want but wanting what you have.”

A moving tale of physical and psychological survival.

Kevin Newman Live

Interview with Kevin Newman.

Turbulence: One Woman's Story of Surviving a Plane Crash

CNN International

Annette tells CNN the story of her survival.

A Plane Crash Survivor's Story

CNN Newsroom

Interview with Don Lemon.

Sole Survivor Tells of 1992 Plane Crash

Entrevista con Fernando Berlín.

Ocho días sobreviviendo sola en la selva tras el accidente de su avión

The author

Annette Herfkens was born in Venezuela to a Dutch family. She was raised in the Netherlands, where she studied law at Leiden University. After completing an internship in Santiago, Chile, she became a management trainee for ING Bank, eradicating professional barriers as the first female executive to be sent abroad by a Dutch bank. She was assigned first to New York, then to London and in 1989 accepted an offer from Banco Santander to help set up the Emerging Markets Department in Madrid. She went back to work just a few months after the airplane crash in 1992 and was promoted to Managing Director one year later. In 1996 she was appointed to Santander’s office in New York City.

By writing “Turbulence”, Annette broke some barriers of her own: The book helped her finally share the spiritual ramifications of her experience and how she used intuition, focus and consciousness to guide her.

She also writes and speaks about the gains that come with loss. She is an accidental expert in the field: Nine years after she lost her fiancé in the crash, her son was diagnosed with autism. Just as in the jungle, she focuses on the beauty of what is, not on what was lost.

Annette is currently living a hopeful life in New York City with her family.