Monday morning schedule called for a dash from my Atlanta Hartsfield Airport for an early flight to Washington, D.C. The purpose of the trip was two-fold. I was one of the speakers slated for a new video being produced by NCCA, National Commission for Certifying Agencies, for presentation at the annual International Credentialing Excellence conference. The next day, I would work with my counterparts and colleagues from other accredited certifying organizations and a group of OSHA leaders.
It was a typical trip; similar to the ones I have made many times; I expected it to be as uneventful as the rest. However, as the packed-plane accelerated for take-off, the fact that we were in serious trouble became obvious. The plane shook violently; veered at an odd angle; noises were loud enough to drown screams.
The pilot quickly got the plane off the ground and we shot into the air, fast and steep. The pilot immediately acknowledge the trouble to the passengers and said he would be working with the flight control tower to assess and plan. As a seasoned business traveler, I have experienced long, bumpy flights, encountered quick dips in wind shears, lightning, engine trouble and once had to make an emergency landing in snow and ice. Those flights had a few attention-getting moments; this flight was different. A pilot had never, on one of my flights, acknowledge trouble like this.
We circled Atlanta repeatedly, burning fuel, and doing low level fly bys in front of the tower. Experts familiar with our plane were in the tower with binoculars, assessing the damage and making a plan with the pilot. The news was not good. Two tires were blown, a third compromised and there was damage to the aircraft. We were in trouble.
Flight attendants had the U.S. Marshals and active military personnel on board identify themselves. Apparently, they too are trained to assist in the event of a possible crash. Passengers were instructed to remove shoes with heels and anything that could fly out and hit someone was locked down. We practiced the crash position, bracing our heads against and holding onto the seat in front of us. The captain instructed us in emergency evaculation procedures. We were told to be ready to leave everything on board- purses, brief cases, and bags - and to look around to see if a child, elderly or handicapped person might need assistance. Focusing on being able to get off the plane safely, and helping others do so, was a welcomed thought.
Passengers were, for the most part, quiet. A man across the aisle from me bowed his head to pray and tears slipped down his face. Emory medical students, going to D.C. for a conference, replaced their heels with running shoes. I put my on Georgia Bulldog crocks and unbeknownst to the man across the aisle, prayed in agreement with him.
I had in-flight internet and was able to email my husband, Cliff, from my handheld to ask him to pray and tell him I love him. Our children got an email that just said, "Mama loves you." I didn't want to go into more detail and had very little time. Cliff and I praised God, knowing that no matter what happened, it would be OK, as I am his. Later I learned that Cliff called our pastor, our parents and Jim Headley, my boss and the CEO of the Crane Institute companies. In an instant, prayers from around the globe were flying right alongside us! I spent the rest of the fuel-burning time praying for Cliff and our family. I prayed that our family would know Christ's love and care, no matter what happened, and that they would know how much I love them.
The Captain warned us that landing would be rough. On dissent, flight attendants chanted over the speakers, "Stay braced; head down; stay braced; head down." It helped because the natural tendency is to look around to see what is happening. They yelled out and nonstop, stay braced; head down.
When we first touched the ground, I thought, "This isn't so bad." Then the full force of the plane trying to land with tires blown out, hit. We shook so violently that I could not make my eyes focus. I closed them and kept praying for my family. The noise was deafening, but I could, at least in my mind, still hear the flight attendants chant. A third wave hit that was not bad, more like the first and then, it was over. The chanting stopped and I looked up. The fire rescue teams moved in immediately. To the best of my knowledge, no one had serious injuries. I had a few minor bruises on the side of my face, probably from a combination of my fair, easy to bruise skin and having a death grip on the seat in front of me.
When my phone service connected again, my email filled with prayers. I had messages from Cliff that melted my heart, in a good way. Prayers came in from Crane Institute - Jim, Susan, Marty, Sherri, Mary Ann, Tima, and from my family and friends. One message, from my daughter Rachel, will be a life-long treasure. It simply said, "Mama, you are my best friend. I love you." At the time, I did not know that anyone else knew what was happening. Cliff said he wanted everyone he knew that would pray, to be praying. I married a smart and wonderful man.
It is joyful to be filled with the love of the Lord and have confidence in His dominion over you and me. We talk about safety, everyday in this industry. After all the drama, I caught another flight, later that day and went to D.C. NCCA filmed the video in the link imbedded in this article. The next day, CIC, NCCER, OCEP and NCCCO worked collaboratively with OSHA officials. Later I realized that praying kept me too busy to really be afraid.
Jim Headley asked me to write about the experience. We recognized this is a different sort of article for a crane industry newsletter. For me, the experience was a reminder about how and where our best safety plans are. The flight crew's training and readiness to respond to an emergency was evident and appreciated. The knowledge and skill of the Marshals and soldiers raised our confidence. This industry can appreciate what it took for these people to be competent, certified and qualified to do a job well.
Most of all, to those who prayed for the safety of everyone on that flight, thank you! For all who read this message, may your life also be full, forgiven and redeemed. May you soar on eagles wings! Take care and stay safe, always and forever.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and
not be faint.