Web writes: "Once a newspaper reporter, I am now a Christian."
A Profound Sky-born Message
The young woman, the mother of two children, opened the front door. I went in. Right in front of me was an open Bible sprawled on the coffee table.
That simple scene told me volumes.
But wait a minute. I’m getting ahead of myself. I need to retreat and tell the previous night’s moment of horror.
As all hands on the evening of Dec. 28, 1978, remember: United Airlines Flight 173 from New York to Denver to Portland was having trouble. One of the landing gears wasn’t cooperating.
The plane was due to land at PDX (Portland) at 5:15 p.m., but the crew didn’t want to “crash land” if it didn’t need to. So pilot, co-pilot and crew rushed around trying to get the errant landing gear to lock into correct position before the McConnell-Douglas aircraft approached a runway -- in this case Runway L 28.
Communication with Portland Approach and the PDX Tower had advised all personnel at Portland International Airport that Flight 173 would circle south of Portland until a landing-gear dysfunction was resolved.
During those frantic 25-plus minutes, apparently none of the plane’s crew was keeping a close eye on the fuel while they fussed over the landing gear. Suddenly it became obvious to the pilot and staff aboard that two of the engines were about to quit because of fuel exhaustion.
What a tragic situation.
Because of circling the plane was now some 17 miles out, actually headed in the wrong direction, and too far from the airport to make it. The crew decided it had to crash land somewhere considerably short of the airport runway.
Stewardesses quickly prepared passengers for a crash landing.
Pilot Ernest Helfrich looked out over the city’s south and southeast suburbs, looking for a place to put it down. He saw the myriad lights of Portland’s east side. He then looked down ahead and saw one lengthy dark spot among the lights. He said later that he wanted as smooth a touchdown as possible, landing where there were few houses. He intended, of course, to keep casualties to a minimum. Perhaps–and hopefully–this dark spot meant that it was an open field where there were no houses.
If he had to put ‘er down, that’s the place, he decided.
The plane cruised lower and lower and finally clipped a couple of tree branches. The DC-8 crazily flap-jacked an old vacant house in that dark strip seen from the air, bounced up a few feet, crossed the busy thoroughfare called East Burnside Street, and plopped back down, pancaking a second house and coming to rest hard in a patch of large fir trees. It was 6:15 p.m.
Allen McDougall, who lived just west of that dark swath among the eastside lights, said he heard a tremendous WHUMP, and thought to himself: those houligan hot-rodders who had been running their metallic monsters up and down Burnside the previous few nights finally lost control and had a crash.
He thought he’d better check on whether there were injuries. Maybe he could help. He ducked out his front door and . . . WHOA! He saw the tail of an aircraft jammed into the trees. He was flabbergasted. Not hot-rodders but a plane had crashed . . .narrowly missing his house. Omigosh!
Within a minute or two, passengers tumbled out the plane’s doors, before sirens rent the cold, early evening air. Fire engines, ambulances, other rescue vans, police cars and other vehicles soon began arriving. Within a minute or two people who had escaped the wreckage were helping others out the plane.
To everyone’s surprise there was no fire.
Two crew members and eight passengers were killed. Investigators later determined that most of those killed had been sitting up front and on the right side where the plane tangled with the trees. Many others, however, were injured in the rush to get out, some seriously, like double fractures and broken ribs.
The next morning I drove to near the crash site. I got out and walked. I saw the plane sandwiched into the trees and the house next door.
When I checked with the next-door family, I asked the husband, Allen McDougall, whether there had been someone in the house that got squashed.
“No. Thank God,” he said, adding that a family had moved out a few days earlier. However, he said he had a new address for the family. It was but a few blocks away. McDougall also said he had the telephone number. So I called the family. A woman answered the phone and said, yes, I could come over for a brief interview.
When I entered that family’s house I came into the living room and saw the Bible open on the coffee table.
“Er . . .uh, are you Christians . . .believers?” I asked.
She could see that I asked that question because of the open Bible.
“Yes. Well, let’s put it this way. If we weren’t before, we sure are now! About 10 days ago, something told me that we had better move . . .right away. It was the strangest feeling. It was a very strong. A force was telling me something urgently. I just had to move.”
Being a reporter, I asked the usual questions like how does it feel to come that close to death? I also asked whether she and family belonged to a church. She said No. But that she now reads the Bible daily, and that she doesn’t really need a church..
I told her that perhaps a church congregation would be comforting.
“I’m sure going to look into it,” she said.
Well, she never surfaced at my church. But I hope and pray that she found another– perhaps closer to her new home.
God certainly spoke to me that day. I drove away much more in tune. The mood was so profound. I’ll never forget it.
(© 2012 Web Ruble – All rights reserved. Written material may not be duplicated without permission.)