Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A Testimony

  Today is an anniversary for me. It's one that I suppose on the one hand I would rather not be acknowledging, but then again, I guess that I'm quite happy that I can. Thirteen years ago, on February 26, 2000, I was on an airplane that crashed into Lynn Canal. Obviously I survived, so I guess for me at least, that's something to celebrate.
  Alaska, because of it's vastness and the fact that so much of the area is roadless, relies heavily on air travel to cover the long distances between villages and towns. I think per capita we have more small planes than any of the other states. Much of the commercial air travel is on small planes- Cessna's and Beaver's and whatever other small types there are. Because there is so much air traffic conducted in these small planes, and since the weather here can be so unpredictable, there seems to be a large number of airplane accidents- probably more than you would read about elsewhere. The nice part is that a good bit of them aren't fatal.
  I don't spend too much time thinking about what happened, unless of course I happen to be getting ready to board one of these small planes, and even though the odds against me being involved in another crash are pretty high, I still get a little nervous when it's time to board, especially in the winter.
  As a Christian man I guess I should be doing what I can to encourage people to get to know the Lord. This seems like a good opportunity to do that. With everything within me I'm convinced that Jesus knows exactly who I am and where I am and what I need at any given moment. I know that he cares, even when circumstances would lead me to believe otherwise, and so I will take some time to share this testimony.
  In the year 2000, a census was being conducted. I saw it as a chance to earn a little extra money, so I signed up to do it. I had to fly over to Juneau to attend a two day class. The day I went over, the sky was fairly clear, with high clouds blowing by overhead and a fairly stiff breeze that often accompanies clear days here. It was cold, as it often is in February and I wasn't enamored with having to fly over, but there was no ferry at the time and I needed to be in that class. As we were slamming up and down in the air currents I could look below and see the grey water of Icy Strait being whipped into a frenzy by the wind and whitecaps were stacked close together. I remember saying a silent prayer-"Lord I sure wouldn't want to die in a plane crash."  I no sooner thought that then I felt like God said-"You won't." Well, to say the least I felt lot's better, but never one to let an opportunity fall by the wayside I said- "Well, I wouldn't want to burn to death or drown either." Again, I felt like God spoke- "You're not going to." Needless to say, if that plane had turned upside down and the prop had fallen off I wouldn't have worried, I was that sure that God had spoken to me. I went to the seminar and several days later I was at the airport getting ready to head back home. Ingrid Boettcher, one of the local gals was the only other passenger returning to Hoonah that day. We made it through Funter Pass and were almost over to Pt. Couverden- maybe ten minutes from home, when the engine made a sound like it was running out of gas. Immediately the pilot switched fuel tanks and turned around, then he called the Juneau tower. He turned to us and told us to put on our life jackets. I was sitting in the front next to the pilot and there was a shoulder harness as well as a seat belt as opposed to just a belt in the back seats. Without thinking, I put the life vest over my safety harness. I heard the pilot declare a mayday. The engine sputtered for a few more minutes and then quit, about half way over Lynn Canal. We didn't know it at the time, but the crankshaft in the engine broke. It was eerie to say the least,  complete silence in the cockpit with the exception of the whoosh of the still turning prop as air passed over it and the sound of Ingrid in the back seat praying. As it was, we didn't have enough altitude to make it into Funter Bay and land on the beach there. The pilot spotted a small gravel bar in the canal close to the beach. He turned the plane towards it, did a manuver to slow us down and we hit the gravel bar and launched into the water. Immediately that ice cold water started filling the plane. I tried to get my door opened but it was jammed. The pilot opened his door and got out, then yelled at me -"You've got to get out! You've got to get out now!" It wasn't that I didn't want to, but the strings of the life jacket had me tethered to the seat belt. Frustrated, the pilot tried to pull me out by the arm, but it only served to kind of jam me against the windshield. I tried to tell him to let go, but the water was so cold that it took my breath away and I couldn't form the words. He managed to get Ingrid out and direct her to the rear of the plane where the water was shallower. The inside of the plane was rapidly filling up and when the water got to the bottom of my nose and it looked like I might not make it, I prayed again, I guess in a rather accusatory way. "You said I wasn't going to drown!" About then I was able to reach into my right pocket with my left hand and pull out a pocket knife that I had gotten for Christmas. I managed to manuver it to my right hand and open the blade. I remember thinking that if I dropped it, that would be all she wrote. I barely touched the blade to that taut string and it parted like thread. I shot out the door where the pilot told me to go to the back of the plane and I would soon be able to touch bottom. We all three made it to a strip of rocky, windswept land and stood shivering in our wet clothes. About twenty minutes later an ERA helicopter appeared and landed in the opening and we all boarded and went back to Juneau. We were taken to the hospital where I spent a good 45 minutes or so standing in a hot shower trying to get warm. After we had been checked over by the hospital staff, we were taken to the airport and flew back home to Hoonah. It was quite the experience. I wish that I could say that it was life changing. I sometimes wonder if I'm not the most ungrateful person that ever lived. In any event, I'm here today, and I know that it's because of God's grace. I hope that perhaps this will give someone else some encouragement. When things aren't going the way we want, when things we perceive as "bad" happen to us, don't give up. As the scripture says, our ways are not His ways and our thoughts are not His thoughts. He loves you and wants the very best for you and if if takes a catastrophe in your life to show you as much, He may just do that, but I hope not. Have a good day.


  1. Hell of a post. I remember that day clearly. I had heard that there was an overdue plane and that you were supposed to be back at a certain time. Not long after that though, you came through the door in a grey sweatsuit that the hospital had given you. You still have that stopwatch? That's one thing I do appreciate about flying down here is the weather is on our side. Alaska is a different animal. Was a lucky day for you., And for us.

  2. I also remember it very well, I was coming back from a basketball trip when I heard the news. I'm so grateful that God was watching out for you! Love you!

    P.S. Great picture!

  3. Hi guys, thanks for commenting. It wasn't much fun, that's for sure, but God certainly was watching out for all of us. It's hard to understand why it is that some folks survive terrible situations and others don't. I just hope that I don't waste the time I have remaining. As I mentioned, some folks have life changing experiences and they aren't the same afterwards. Aside from having an aversion to flying in the winter, I don't think it really changed me for the better unfortunately. I remember Nick Jans did an interview with me for an article in Alaska Magazine after the accident. I assume they yarded the plane out of the water and replaced the engine or at least the crankshaft. For all I know it could still be flying around. Not much chance of a freak accident like that happening again though.

  4. I remember it like it was yesterday! So glad you were fine, wasn't your time that is for sure.

  5. Hi Liz- I try not to think about it too much. I guess it's good to remember how God saved my bacon again though- that certainly needs to be acknowledged.

  6. Wow Tom... I had no idea that happen! Thank God everything came out okay.

  7. Hi Todd- Yeah, it was one of those experiences that seem kind of surreal. We had one heck of a great pilot. I was so glad that we didn't land way out in the middle of the canal.The water was so cold that any exercize would be short lived. I could just barely get enough breath to keep going. It was definately God's mercy on us all.