Editor’s Note: We at Tally One want to expose our readers to all different aspects of flying. Missionary flying is a field of aviation that doesn’t get a lot of press. It can be both very challenging and rewarding. This week’s featured pilot story is shared by Lonnie Good and gives you a glimpse into what it’s like to take to the skies as a man on a mission. You can read more about Lonnie and his flying experiences at Wings for Christ.
God Said “No”
By Lonnie J. Good
This is a true account of God’s grace and mercy in my life.
The stench of aviation fuel permeated the air. I knew the wreckage could ignite at any moment. It was not fire but peace and serenity that engulfed me. I reached through the gaping hole in the side of the fuselage that I had just crawled through and began pulling my friends and fellow missionaries to safety.
Twenty two years earlier, Fathers Day 1964, my grandfather burst through our front door, grasped my mother, held her, and sobbed. After a while he came to me with tears running down his face and said; “Son, you are the man of the house now, your dad is not coming home”.
Before the tears came, even before I could mourn, my path had been set. Dad had given his life in the service of others and somehow I knew that it fell to me to carry on in his footsteps.
His Father’s Day cake was sitting untouched on the kitchen table. Two days prior, I had chosen it from a rack in the bakery truck that delivered bread to the family farm.
He flew over the farm that day rocking the wings of the small plane. This was his way of saying, “I see you son”. With wonder and admiration I waved and watched till he was out of sight.
He was on his way to join others in a search for a downed plane. This was no different than all the other searches he had been on as a volunteer with the Civil Air Patrol. None of us had any way of knowing the impending circumstances or chain of events that would forever alter my life.
While searching, they spotted what appeared to be wreckage. Flying too low and without adequate power to climb, the small plane they were flying slammed into the side of the mountain.
I remember being told that the pilot had seen angels appear and kneel at my father’s head as he died. Whether this actually happened or if they were merely words to comfort a little boy, I do not know, but I do know that I have told that story a thousand times, and a thousand times there were angels.
The next time I saw him, his body was cold and lifeless. I reached into the casket and touched his hand and saw the scars beneath the wax and make-up that was used to cover his torn flesh.
My father was twenty eight years old when he died. Despite the fear that I too would die at that age, I placed my life in God’s hands.
At age twenty eight I was in Waco, Texas with a missionary organization called “Wings For Christ”, helping them, and receiving the necessary training to pursue my life long dream of being a missionary pilot.
Our mission took on many different forms. On this particular trip we were to deliver a pickup truck to a native missionary down in Mexico. We would then return by small plane to the U.S.
The afternoon was hot and muggy at the high altitude airport in the heart of Mexico. Standing on the tarmac of Del Norte airport, we tossed a coin to see who would ride in the cramped rear compartment. Having lost, I crawled through the small door and buckled myself in, giving the seat belt an extra pull, as if to prepare for the unexpected terror that lay ahead.
The prospect of my own death haunted me. Today was my twenty-ninth birthday, the last day of my life that these fears could come to pass.
For the last couple of years I had been praying that God would not allow me to be taken this way. I did not want my two young children to know the loneliness and pain of growing up without a dad, no one to play catch with, no dad to cheer a home run, no one to take them fishing. I wanted to be the dad that I never had.
Our first attempt to take off should have been a warning as the aircraft veered off the runway to the left, we stopped and tried again with the same results. The pilot requested a longer runway, permission was granted and the tower asked if everything was O.K. We replied in the affirmative, and our third attempt to get off the ground was successful. However, the initial feeling of freedom from the earth was short lived.
We were climbing and almost clear of the air field when the airplane began to falter. The pilot had to drop the nose slightly to keep us flying. The airplane again started to fall, and again the pilot was able to correct enough to keep us airborne. Both men in the cockpit were trying desperately to regain control and avoid the crash that would surely kill us all.
Other than the engines roaring and the warning horn sounding, things were quiet. No one was yelling. No one said a word. The airplane stalled and turned hard to the left. We were falling, I looked out the window and saw the ground rushing up to meet us, quietly I said “Father protect us”. Had we hit the ground at that angle we would have died.
At the instant the left wing was going to hit the ground I heard the co-pilot cry out, “Oh my God,” and then we collided with an old abandoned cargo plane sitting at the end of the runway. Our trajectory had been altered, now we were doing a flat spin through the air until we hit the ground.
As we were spinning through the air, for me, time stopped. God opened up a veil and allowed me to look into heavenly places. The most detestable, black creatures were standing side by side in a place where they were allowed to come and argue their cases against humanity. I was permitted to see only their backs. I was not required to see how hideous they really were. They were bargaining for our lives. All of this happened in
a fraction of a second. God said, “NO”! He denied their appeals to let us die. I knew in my heart, that God’s “NO” was the result of my prayers.
It was over, I unbuckled my safety belt and crawled out of the wreckage.
After being pulled to safety, the crew were loaded into aid units and taken to hospitals. Alone, I walked through the crash site and took pictures of the wreckage. With only a small scratch and an ear to ear smile, I was asking myself, “Why are you smiling so?” It was then that I realized what had just happened. God was there, God was great, and God had delivered me. I do not remember how long I was in a state of euphoria and though it took a few days for the sore muscles to heal, the impact of that moment has never worn off.
Each time I fly I think of the all-encompassing grace of God. The fear is gone. I love flying, and I love taking children up and watching their faces as we lift off the runway.
The little boy in me still looks up every time a plane flies over remembering the time the wings waved. . . and gives thanks for life and a heritage that was given to him by both his earthly and heavenly Father.