Angel in the cockpit
David Moore and his wife, Florence, had just discovered Florence’s mother was dying of cancer. The Moore’s lived in the small town of Yoakum, TX, then, but they had been driving back and forth to Hendersonville, NC, to visit the sick woman. After one trip, David decided to leave the car in North Carolina for Florence to use and take the bus back to Texas.
“Forty-six hours of riding and listening to babies cry! On our budget, I couldn’t afford to fly; but I made a vow to walk, if I had to—anything to avoid getting on another bus!”
The following week, as David packed and planned a hitchhiking route to Hendersonville, Henry Gardner phoned. Henry volunteered to fly David to North Carolina in his small Cessna 180. The pilot said he would get in some sight-seeing at the same time. David gratefully accepted.
David had never flown in a small plane. He was nervous, as the two men taxied down the runway early the next morning. But the little aircraft lifted gracefully, and he sat back to handle his unfamiliar duties as navigator. Within a half hour, however, they encountered fog as they neared Houston.
“This is no problem,” Henry reassured an increasingly nervous David. “We have aviation maps on board and look—you can see the Houston radio towers rising above the fog. All we have to do is watch the towers, and we can tell right where we are.”
But the fog worsened, and just outside Jackson, MS, the plane’s radio and instruments died. Now, the pair couldn’t see anything on the ground, nor could they talk to people in the control tower. Just as David was feeling desperate, the fog lifted for a moment to reveal the airport directly beneath them. Henry took the plane down smoothly, and within minutes, they had found an airport mechanic. Relieved, the two men grabbed a quick lunch and were soon airborne, with instruments and radio restored and fuel tanks filled.
Everything went smoothly for a while. The sun had come out, and David’s tension diminished. He began to enjoy the flight and his bird’s-eye view of the ground.
But as the plane passed Greenville, SC, the fog, which had been patchy and broken, turned once again into a continuous gray mass. Henry radioed Asheville Airport for instructions.
“Our field is closed because of fog,” the air-traffic controller responded, “and we have no capability for instrument landing. Return to Greenville and land there.”
“But I can’t,” Henry protested. “We’re almost out of fuel—we won’t have enough to fly back to Greenville.”
There was a silence. Then, “Okay,” the radio voice snapped. “We’ll get the ground crew ready. Come in on an emergency landing.”
David gripped the sides of his seat. “We can use aviation maps, just like we did before,” Henry reassured David; and after a brief scan of the blueprint, he began his blind descent.
Suddenly, a voice came over the radio: “Pull it up! Pull it up!”
Henry immediately pulled up on the stick. As he did so, the men saw a split in the fog, and the view beneath sent tremors of fear through each of them. Instead of being over the runway, they were above an interstate highway! Had they descended a few feet farther, they would have hit the bridge and certainly crashed.
The two looked at each other. They were almost out of fuel, and inside the grayness, it was impossible to know where they were. Then, with enormous relief, they heard the controller’s composed voice breaking into the tense silence in the cockpit. “If you will listen to me,” he said, “I’ll help you get down.”
The controller began his instructions. David gripped the seat, praying intently. The journey seemed to be taking forever. But all of a sudden, the controller said, “You’re right over the runway. Set it down…now!”
Obediently, Henry dropped the plane through the fog, and the two men recognized the beginning of a runway just ahead, with lights along both sides. Within minutes, they had touched down.
The plane taxied to a stop, and the two men offered a quick prayer of thanksgiving. Then Henry turned the radio on again. “Thanks so much,” he told the air-traffic controller, his voice shaky with relief. “You probably saved our lives.”
But the controller’s response stopped both men in their tracks. “What are you talking about? We lost all radio contact with you when we told you to return to Greenville.”
“You what?” Henry asked, incredulous.
“We never heard from you again, and we never heard you talking to us or to anyone else,” the controller told them. “We were stunned when we saw you break through the clouds.”
David and Henry looked at each other. Who had guided them through the grayness and onto safe ground? They would never know for sure. But even today, David never hears a small airplane without thinking of that flight. “I now know that, insignificant as I may be in this big world, God always has His eye on me,” he said.
Joan Wester Anderson,
Excerpted from her book,
Where Angels Walk.