It was a gorgeous day on Friday, October 17th, 1997. Our son was in school, but Anneli was off from kindergarten that day so I asked if she would like to fly to Lake Lawn Lodge for a father/daughter date. She was so excited!
We made the hour-long flight in a little two-seater Cessna, which cruised at all of 70 knots. After an uneventful flight and landing at the resort, we enjoyed a great lunch and then a picturesque stroll along Lake Geneva in southern Wisconsin.
Needing to be back home before Stephen’s school let out, we took off a little after 1 PM, climbed to altitude, and set a course for the Monroe Airport. Ten or twelve miles east of Janesville, our little plane went from purring to banging and clanking like a rock crusher. I had no idea what had happened, but the power was dropping, the temperature rising, and what had been an amazing day with my daughter became something potentially terrifying.
I prayed briefly, cut back the power, set up the glide speed, started looking for landing spots, and keyed the radio to Janesville control tower to declare an emergency. Though this response had been practiced and rehearsed countless times before in training, this time it was way too real. I thought we had enough altitude to make the airport, so the tower cleared us for a straight-in approach to land on the long east/west runway. We came in high and fast, since there would be no go around if we missed, crabbing into the wind to bleed off speed and altitude once we made the long runway. As we landed, my daughter glanced behind us and saw the HUGE crash vehicle following as we rolled to a stop. She grabbed my arm and exclaimed, “Look, Daddy! This is so cool!” She actually never knew that anything was wrong until they came and towed us to the hangars.
In flying, you pray for the best, prepare and plan for the worst. The engine failure 19 years ago this week proved to be a non-event because instructors had hammered into me the drills for a mid-flight emergency and engine failure. It is something most every profession insists on, especially first responders and medical personnel.
Churches need to do the same. Unlike flying, where you may never experience a real in-flight emergency, life always entails emergencies and disaster of varying degrees. Are you equipped to cope?
Who will you call and reach out to when disaster strikes? What plan is in place to care for those you love? Have you spent enough time in prayer to find confidence and comfort with God?
Although I disagree with Nietzsche about so many things, he was right about this: what does not kill you has the potential to make you stronger. Think back on your life and the tough lessons you have learned from the difficult experiences encountered and endured. Rethink those experiences and remember the steps taken as well as the results. What would you do differently? What would you do the same? And perhaps most relevant to those you know and love, how can you share that knowledge so as to benefit others before they experience a similar disaster?
Nineteen years after the engine failure, all that remains are the memories and an acrylic paperweight on my desk that holds a few broken parts from that Cessna 150 engine. Someday the paperweight will belong to my daughter, to help her remember a daddy who loved her enough to plan ahead to protect her. Who knows? It might just lend a measure of calm and confidence when her world feels like it may be spinning out of control.
Thinking back those 19 years, it occurs to me that the worst moment was after we were safely on the ground. It was then that I had to call my wife and tell her I couldn’t pick Stephen up after school because the plane had had an engine failure and I was stranded 45 minutes from home. Not a fun call. It was some time after that before she let me take either one of the kids flying.