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A plane crash left him unscathed. But not unchanged.

Grounded

By Trevor Stevenson ’00

The engine sputtered and died. Passengers screamed. The pilot panicked and began yelling “Emergency!” over his radio.

I was aboard a tiny prop plane over the Amazon River, and as chaos reigned, I just felt…oddly…quiet. I looked out the window and thought how beautiful it all was: the afternoon sun and the shadows of the clouds playing over jungle treetops 8,000 feet below.

The plane went into a tailspin, and we fell through the clouds, sunshine flickering across our faces as the plane spun. Passengers screamed, repenting sins and vowing to change if God gave them another chance.

Wrenching the controls, the pilot succeeded in softening the angle of our descent but there was no time to pull into a glide. The wing on my side sliced through the canopy of a tall tree, and the pilot cursed God, let go of the controls, and ducked. A gunshot sound on my side signaled the wing hitting a tree trunk.

The tail section shrieked as it was torn off, leaving a gaping hole behind me. Windows shattered and the cabin filled with leaves, branches, and angry wasps. Trees sheared off both wings. The fuselage slammed to the ground and skidded, ricocheting off tree trunks, one of which tore a hole in the wall near me. The plane plowed into a small tree and stopped. My small backpack, which contained my first-aid kit, flew out of the baggage compartment and landed softly in my lap.

A moment of stunned silence was broken by the pilot, who screamed, “Run!” He opened his door and staggered into the jungle, leaving a trail of blood.

The others followed. A safe distance away, I had everyone lie down. One man had cuts, a broken back, and broken ribs. Another had a cracked and bleeding skull. Another man had two fractured shins, deep cuts, and a concussion. I was completely unharmed — just a mark where a wasp had stung my side.

Natives appeared, and a crowd formed around me. Several older women reached out and touched me. As their hands brushed across my body, I heard one women say in Spanish, “Ángel.”

The thought occurred: Maybe I was dead! I looked back at the plane, half-expecting to see my lifeless body hanging out of a window. I looked inside and saw my bent seat and crushed wall amidst glass shards, leaves, twisted metal, and bloodstains. But no body.

The natives helped us get the injured to a community near the Amazon that had a radio. As I tended the man with the cracked skull, he suddenly sat up, stared intently at me, and asked which church I was the priest of. “Only a holy man could come out of that totally unharmed,” he said.

He then confessed what a greedy, dishonest, adulterous man he was. Trembling, he was sure the crash was his fault, but that God had spared him because he promised to change his life if given a second chance. “But how do I change my life?” he begged.

It was clear he intended to do whatever I said, so I told him not to live in fear of God, but to do everything always for the benefit of the people and ideas that he truly loved. He grabbed my hand and shook it thoughtfully.

I wondered: What would I do differently now? I still felt peaceful, as I did even as the plane spiraled to the ground. But I didn’t feel fundamentally changed.
The rescue plane landed on the river, and soon we were en route to a hospital. Everyone was terrified that the rescue plane would crash. A woman went hysterical, and our injured pilot second-guessed everything our new pilot did. My new friend prayed fervently.

I felt total calm, and realized there had been a transformation after all — this peaceful feeling would stay with me. It would free me, giving me the conviction to act without self-doubt. It would help me move forward in my life, leaving behind regrets. Those would remain buried with the twisted metal skeleton of the wrecked plane.


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