GOD HELPED US SURVIVE!
Jesus Did It!
By: Ron Wayner
In a blinding snowstorm, first one engine quit. Then flying just a few feet above the ice-cold Bering Sea, the other quit. The airplane was going down! Now they would have to swim for their lives. But first ... they decided to pray. "Lord, we ask for your help."
They were going to need it.
On March 11, 1985, Eric Knutsen and I went down to the lumber yard that morning to transport some lumber for a missionary. We loaded the lumber on a truck and drove to the town of King Salmon, Alaska. Once there, we loaded the lumber aboard the Beech 18, the aircraft I would be using that day.
I called flight service from the airplane for a weather report. They said the weather in Perriville was good as well as in King Salmon. There were scattered clouds up through 9,000 feet. I felt it would be a pretty good day to fly in Alaska.
We took off from King Salmon and headed to Perriville, which was about two hours away. Landing there, we dropped off the lumber and then took off for the village of Sand Point. A short while later we touched down there.
Leaving Sand Point, I set the coordinates for King Salmon. We would fly directly there. In the air, we encountered a few shower squalls, and I flew around them. We were flying at a little over 9,000 feet.
We climbed up over the mountains and had been in flight for about an hour and fifteen minutes. In 20 minutes we would be in King Salmon, so I started to descend. I turned on the Automatic Terminal Information Service for King Salmon. They were reporting the lowest cloud ceiling at about 2,800 feet. The weather sounded pretty good over there, so I thought I would simply fly through some clouds in front of us, rather than fly around them as I had been. No problem. I had made this flight hundreds of times in the last year, so this was just another routine flight.
The left engine developed carburetor ice
But as I flew into the first cloud, almost immediately the left engine developed carburetor ice. I shoved down some carburetor heat to melt the ice, but the situation worsened. In less than three minutes, I lost the left engine.
Descending from 9,000 feet, with the left engine feathered, we descended to about 300 feet above the ground - covering a distance of about 50 miles.
When I had flown into the cloud, what I didn't realize was that it wasn't just a harmless cloud. It was a heavy snowstorm cloud -- spitting big balls of snow. But because the weather service was reporting good weather in King Salmon, and there was such little distance between our position and there, I had made the assumption that there was reasonably good weather in between. That assumption proved to be wrong.
What made this sudden, unexpected emergency interesting was that just before we had flown into the snowstorm and developed the icing problem, Eric had been reading out of the book of John from the Bible. Eric was a new Christian and the Holy Spirit was bringing alive the scriptures to him. As I was busy flying the airplane, it was precious to hear how excited he was about discovering nuggets of truth from God's Word he had not known of previously, let alone been excited about.
"Listen to this!" He said excitedly, reading from John 14:27: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."
I was very familiar with these scriptures, but little did I know they were about to take on a new significance.
During our descent, at about 1,000 ft. we dropped below the storm. We could see water below, which was the cold Bering Sea. We could faintly see the coastline about two miles away. I corrected course back to the east so we could fly near the coastline, just in case I needed to make an emergency landing on the beach. Now at roughly 500 feet, the air temperature was still only 30 degrees.
Not far away, I knew there was an airstrip at the village of Egigik. I told Eric we were going to make a landing there instead of trying to make King Salmon. I turned into the bay, flying 50 feet above the water. The village of Egigik was on top of a bluff, about 70 feet above water level. As we flew toward land, I remember Eric's last words, "Boy, isn't this water ever going to stop?"
Suddenly the right engine died too!
Suddenly the right engine died too! Our choices were up. The plane skipped across the top of the water, making a remarkably smooth landing.
We quickly unharnessed ourselves and exited the aircraft. We didn't want the water to come up around the doors and jam them shut. We jumped up on the left wing while the plane was still floating. "We've got no choice but to swim, Eric," I told him. "Land is between 100 - 200 yards away."
"Wait a minute!" he said. "Before we go, let's pray first."
We asked the Lord Jesus to bring us through this crisis. Survival time in water at this temperature - 33 to 34 degrees - is a scant three to five minutes. We had no idea how long it would take us to swim to shore.
I jumped into the freezing water and Eric followed. When Eric hit the water, the shock was so intense that at his first exhale, he blew out his upper false teeth! He had a snowmobile suit on and unlaced insulated boots, so he kicked off his boots. He swam to me, and we didn't swim long together before he realized how much drag his snowmobile suit was. Eric was not a good swimmer anyway. In the process of trying to slip out of it, I saw him starting to go under. I grabbed for him, pulling him as I continued swimming to shore. Moments later he requested I let him swim on his own, because he didn't want me using up all my energy.
A short distance later, I noticed he went under again. Frantically pulling him to the surface, I noticed his snowmobile suit had somehow come off.
A few minutes later, through broken gasps, Eric muttered, "I just can't swim anymore." (Twice before, when Eric had gone under, he thought he was going to die. Now he was quite sure his time was up).
Help us Lord ... I silently prayed. Shore was so close - yet so far.
Suddenly my feet touched bottom
Suddenly my feet touched bottom. I yelled back to Eric, "My feet are touching! We've made it! Walk! You don't have to swim anymore!"
Then Eric let out with an elated, "Praise the Lord!"
We waded out on some mud flats, which was quite a distance. We had been in the water about 15 minutes -- 10 minutes longer than what a person was expected to survive. Only God could have kept us alive those extra 10 minutes.
Once beyond the mud flats, we didn't know what to do. So I asked the Lord to show us how to get to Egigik. We were so cold by then that we couldn't afford a mistake. We couldn't see the village from where we were. Now with the affects of hypothermia setting in, we could die before getting to the village.
We kept walking. Suddenly we saw some tire tracks in the snow, so we followed them! Naturally thoughts nagged me: What if you are following them the wrong way?
The cold was affecting my ability to reason. But we walked on, trusting Jesus. Suddenly we saw it! The tracks had led us to the public dump!
We quickly climbed up above the dump, and there the village was in the distance! Our spirits surged. The first house we came to, we knocked. Unbelievably, the village policeman happened to be there, knowing just what needed to be done in our situation.
Thank you, Jesus ... I said to myself - You're so faithful!
Note: Ron and Barb Wayner have been used of the Lord to fly missionaries of every denomination across Africa for years since this writing. The valuable ministry God has assigned them is called: Mercy Air SA. People desiring to email them can do so at this email address:
Their Tel/Fax: (+27) 13 750 1221
Donations to their ministry can be sent to: Mercy Air Inc., P.O. Box 2571, Holland, MI 49422-2571
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