Your Key to a Happy Landing


How would you cope if a pleasant plane ride suddenly turned into a nightmare?
What would you do if your pilot died moments after take off?
Last weekend, Doug White found himself staring these life or death questions square in the face.

Passenger lands plane in Fla. after pilot dies

TAMPA, Fla. – Doug White and his family had just enjoyed a smooth takeoff and were ascending through the clouds when the pilot guiding their twin-engine plane tilted his head back and made a guttural sound.

The pilot, Joe Cabuk, was unconscious. And though White had his pilot’s license, he had never flown a plane as large as this.

“I need help. I need a King Air pilot to talk to. We’re in trouble,” he radioed.

Then he turned to his wife and two daughters: “You all start praying hard.” Behind him, his wife trembled. Sixteen-year-old Bailey cried. Eighteen-year-old Maggie threw up.

White, 56, landed the plane on his own about 30 minutes later, coaxed through the harrowing ordeal by air traffic controllers who described exactly how to bring the aircraft to safety. The pilot died, but White somehow managed.

When a controller asked whether he was on autopilot, White replied: “I’m in the good Lord’s hands flying this Niner Delta Whiskey,” giving the code for the aircraft.

So how do you survive when the unthinkable happens?

Doug White’s experience provides two invaluable insights:

1. Pray hard

2. Follow the directions of a higher authority

And believe it or not, I have seen how following these simple two steps can see us safely home under some similar circumstances.

I will never forget the day my friend Cam called me up and asked if I wanted to have lunch.

He told me to meet him at the private plane terminal at Tucson International Airport.

When I arrived, Cam told me that there was a great little cafe at Ryan Field, a small airport around thirty miles away.

He had rented a small Cessna and wanted to take it out for a spin.

Since I am always up for something fun and out of the ordinary, I said “Sure!”

So off we went.

I was completely confident in Cam’s abilities as a pilot. He had grown up on a tributary of the Amazon River in the jungles of Peru.

If he could survive the challenges of being a bush pilot, landing in the wide open spaces of Arizona would be no problem at all.

All  had to do was relax and enjoy the view – or so I thought.

Cam started giving me a run down of how the plane worked – how to turn, what the endless spread of gauges were for.

I listened with polite, but somewhat distant attention.

I assumed that if I ever took flying lessons all this trivia would mean something to me, but at that point it was merely conversation filler.

That is, until Cam turned to me and said, “You got all that?”

Not wanting to act like I wasn’t paying attention, I nodded.

“Great! You take it now!”

With that, Cam folded his arms and smiled.

He didn’t have to ask me twice!

I grabbed that wheel in a death grip!

After awhile I had a pretty good feel for the basics like, oh, keeping the plane level.

Pretty soon, Cam was teaching me how to execute turns and vary the speed of the aircraft.

After about twenty minutes, my heart rate had gone back down under 150 and I was actually enjoying the experience.

“So how do you like this now?”, Cam asked.

“It’s a lot of fun!”,  I foolishly ventured.

“Great! Now you are going to land it!”

There was something about that announcement  that had magically transformed Cam’s explanations of basic aircraft flight principles from the realm of smile and nod to the most important words I had ever heard in my life.

And as we turned and lined up the plane with the desert air strip called Ryan Field, Cam had my undivided attention.


Aerial photo of KRYN (Ryan Field Airport)
So how did my landing turn out?

There is a saying among pilots – Any landing you walk away from is a good one.

And not counting the three bounces it took before the wheels of the craft were permanently on the run way, we had a pretty good landing.

Like Doug White, I managed to get through a situation where I was clearly in over my head by:

1. Praying hard

2. Following the instructions of a higher authority.

Isn’t it funny how the same basic approach can work on so many levels, so many situations, so many challenges in life?

Including the ultimate challenge, how we will bring this life in for its final landing.

In John 11, one of Jesus’ closest friends, a man named Lazarus,  had suddenly died.

Facing crushing grief and overwhelming confusion, Lazarus’ sister Martha turned to Jesus.

The interaction is instructive:

Now Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.”
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
She said to Him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” (John 11:21-27)
Mary managed to pass this test by turning to Jesus (praying hard) and taking what Jesus had to say seriously.
The result?
One of Jesus most awe inspiring miracles – Mary’s brother was raised from the dead.
Mary had learned what Doug White had learned- what I had learned at Ryan Field.
Sounds pretty simple doesn’t it?
Life does have a funny way of presenting us with unexpected, in over our heads experiences.
But no matter what the challenge – even facing the challenge of death itself
praying hard
and following the instructions of our Higher Authority
will bring us safely in for a three point landing on the other side.

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