Continental flight 88, Denver to Chicago—February 1976. I was in the Navy at the time, having flown home on weekend liberty to see the love of my life, Elaine. Commercial airliners had special seat locations designated for military personnel, with correspondingly cheap cost. We used to joke that we would have to bark to get these seats. They were always way in the back of the planes, across from the galley, next to the bathrooms.
I was seated next to the bulkhead, with a wonderful view of the port side engine out the window. We taxied out to the runway, waiting for clearance from the tower.
“Continental flight 88 cleared for take-off.”
Just after rotation, the pilots pulled back on the controls to get us airborne, and then the engine right outside my window exploded. The explosion cut through the fuel line, igniting the fuel. I could feel the 727 Jet begin to yaw like I was on a rollercoaster—one of those twisty ones, getting ready for an upside-down corkscrew maneuver. Miraculously, the pilot cut power, guiding the plane back onto the concrete runway with a bone-jarring slam! We came to a screeching halt. Following emergency procedures, the flight attendants unbuckled—throwing the levers and cracking the hatches next to the galley right in front of me.
Smoke engulfed the cabin. The flight attendants quickly threw the levers back, resealing the hatches. With alarm in their eyes, they looked forward, grabbing for the phone connected to the flight deck. The first passenger to exit the plane on the starboard side snagged the top of the yellow inflating emergency slide, ripping it completely off the fuselage. He fell flat on his back, two stories onto the runway. Now the completely loaded plane had only one exit route.
I sat, looking out the window at the raging fire, smelling the acrid fuel residue from the smoke still in the cabin. My ears were still ringing from the explosion and I was thinking this might be it. My obituary would read, “Dead at age 19, a victim of a mechanical failure.” I fully expected a massive explosion. It took what seemed like an hour to clear out the plane. I just sat, watched, sniffed, and waited in ear-ringing silence for the end to come. I was the last passenger to jump onto the one remaining yellow inflated slide. Hitting the ground, I turned around to see the charred fuselage outside the window where I sat. What was left of what the NTSB reported as, “a catastrophically failed engine,” was still burning. The plane had several holes in the skin, and the fire swept through the cargo hold.
The pilot was the last to hit the ground, right behind me. I extended my hand with a thumbs up, saying, “good job!” He simply pointed up, touched his heart, paused for a moment of reflection, and uttered, “ten seconds later, no one survives.” We both looked north to the vacant field, beyond the end of the runway, where the plane would have crashed—surely killing everyone on board.
What was God thinking? Did he see dozens of sparrows falling, only to rescue them in February of 1976 because they needed to continue to fly?
The sovereignty of the Father clearly makes my life possible now.
What about your life? How many near-death experiences have you had? Ever think you could have had a close call or two?
Steve digs deeper into the emotional facet of the Kingdom of Heaven with a young screenwriter who experienced a Bubble of the Kingdom of Heaven for the first time.