Plane Going Down!
This is a true account of events as described by a passenger aboard a plane, returning from the Holy Land on August 29, 2003
It was dawn on Friday, August 29, 2003. We were sad to be leaving Jerusalem. We were on our way to Tel Aviv and from there, to Athens.
We had a magnificent time. The previous day we had celebrated the Dormition of our Lady at the site of her tomb, since this feast is celebrated in Jerusalem on the 28th of August, that is, 13 days later than the date celebrated in Greece.
We had a unique experience. The feast was rich and splendid for everyone. Late in the afternoon we packed our bags and took part in the all night vigil at the Holy Sepulcher. Immediately afterwards we boarded the bus which was waiting for us just outside the old city. The weather was good, the sky starlit and in the silence we delighted in the city all lit up. We fixed our gaze on the city’s walls, embracing all the holy sites with our mind, holding them tight within our hearts. An almost invisible smile gave way to our fatigue, but also to our deep gratefulness towards God for everything we had experienced. Our thankfulness was so great that it was not shaken by the long wait, or even by the Israelis’ exhausting security control at the airport.
When we eventually boarded the plane – if I remember correctly, it was a twin engine Airbus – I noticed that its lights were flickering the whole time. I thought that some wire was not making contact properly and I sank into my seat. When the plane starting taxiing, the electrical problems became more apparent, as the characteristic sound of small, multiple short-circuits could be heard. I didn’t think much of it. The lights went out, we took off, and when they turned back on the problem was less noticeable. I was sitting with my mother on the left side of the aircraft, in front of the wing, and my friends and acquaintances were sitting close by.
About twenty minutes later we heard a loud noise and the aircraft started shaking and moving back and forth. The pilot told us in Hebrew, and then in English, to remain seated and fasten our seat belts. The stewardesses did the same. At the beginning, we didn’t pay much attention, until I looked at the wing and saw the engine on fire and spitting out burning pieces of metal! After a reassuring word, I showed it to my mother and my other friends. We had all traveled by plane many times before, but it was the first time we had seen a flaming engine. We tensed up somewhat but we tried not to show our worry, remaining silent. As I learnt afterwards, some of us were inwardly praying the Jesus prayer. A few minutes later the pilot confirmed that we had lost the left engine and that he was going try to make it to Eleftherios Venizelos airport in Athens, using the other engine.
Less than twenty minutes later we heard a noise not as loud from the right side of the plane and felt the same strong vibrations, mixed with turbulence. Some people, sitting in front of the right wing shouted, “The engine is on fire!” The atmosphere in the plane which was mostly calm, and rather pleasant, up to then turned into panic. The aircraft was quickly and steadily losing altitude, and there was a loud whistling sound that I later recalled hearing in films when planes dropped bombs. The stewardesses, who had just started offering refreshments, rushed to secure the trolleys in their proper places and then sat down quickly and fastened their seat belts and put their heads on their knees. Several people with heart problems and some of the elderly were taking their pills two at a time. Spouses were making public confessions as to when and where and with whom they had committed adultery and were asking for forgiveness. Older people were asking for forgiveness from their children because they had not included them in their wills and forgiveness was being granted. And the latter were apologizing for past inappropriate behavior. Friends were revealing that they had lied in certain situations and had slandered each other.
The plane started leaning to one side and we realized that the pilot was trying to turn back to Tel Aviv or go to Cyprus. A little while later a stewardess got up and quickly went over to secure some things that were falling. I stopped her and asked her what exactly was happening. The pleasant young woman who had previously been smiling had turned pale white and lost her voice; her expression had turned to fear.
I asked her if we had lost both engines and she nodded. “And what are we going to do now?” I asked. She stopped looking at me and became distant, as if she were looking far away. She shook her head back and forth and shrugged her shoulders as if indifferent, as though everything was over and she started to walk away. I held her by the hand tightly, shouting, “We’re falling?” She just shook her head repeatedly, unable to say a word. Then she ran to buckle up in her seat again, holding her head tightly to her knees. We all took a deep breath and tried as calmly as possible to realize what was happening.
The veil of gloom was torn by the loud voice of a monk. “Don’t be afraid, my brothers, let us pray. God will not abandon us!” The priests put on their petrachilia (stoles) and started reading prayers, other faithful were saying the Jesus prayer quietly, and the rest divided themselves into two groups (one for each side of the plane), one reading the Paraklesis to the Theotokos, and the other the Akathist. We placed our hopes in God and felt a lot better.
Non-Christian passengers, a lot more scared than us, thought we were singing and that we had gone crazy. However, this comforting boost was suddenly interrupted a little later, when the the captain made an announcement in a terrified voice: “As you have already realized we lost the second engine a little while ago. We have emptied our fuel tanks and will try to return to Ben Gurion Airport (the airport in Tel Aviv) but...” He had a lump in his throat and suddenly stopped speaking. At that moment we froze. It is one thing to presume something awful is about to happen and another to have it officially confirmed for you. After the first tense moment, we all continued our prayers from where we had left off - some with the Jesus Prayer, some with the Paraklesis, and others with the Akathist. It made an impression on me that people who had previously seemed not to believe, were praying wholeheartedly.
I tried to act calm, to the point of being accused of insensitivity. Hoping to give courage to some who were crying, I explained calmly, “We will all die one day. This cannot be changed. What is important therefore? How many years we will live and how we will live them. We all want to live many years, but if God has decided that we die today, this cannot be changed either. Besides, whatever can be done within our power to be saved, we do it. So, if we take it for granted that today we will be called to make an account for our lives, what should it matter to us? What state our soul is in. Now you would say, ‘I’m not in good shape at all, but if I had more time I would repent!’ But this way of thinking isn’t relevant now – though probably a pious desire – because as we said, we’re presuming that we’re leaving today. So, what is there for us to do? To pray sincerely and genuinely ask for the forgiveness of our sins. But we must also place our hope in God. Why? Because, God through His infinite love for us, would never permit something to happen to us towards the detriment of our souls. That is, that if He decides to take us today, then He will take us at our best.
Most of us just confessed and received Holy Communion yesterday at the feast of the Virgin Mary; so we’re as ready as we can be; imagine leaving being totally unprepared? Those of us who came here did not come as tourists, but pilgrims. Do you think the Lord and the Theotokos, whose feast we went to, would abandon us?”
The turbulence continued strong once again. We were flying low; the islands could be made out and farther away, the mainland. Then suddenly, the same monastic who had urged us to pray – I do not know if he was a monk or a hieromonk, I just remember his skinny figure, the happiness in his face, and his long beard – got up and said in a loud voice, full of conviction and with tears in his eyes, “My children, please believe me. I can see our Lady, huge, standing in front of us, and holding the plane by its belly!!!. We’re going to be saved! We’re going to be saved!” And weeping he said: “Let us pray so as to thank her!”
Then we all took heart and started chanting the Paraklesis, louder this time, joyfully chanting the Paraklesis. Even the stewardesses could tell by our body language that something good was happening and they too took courage, looking at us curiously.
Soon, we could clearly see the buildings in Tel Aviv, since we were already flying very low. There were already a few moments left. Thoughts of doubt started to enter my head: “I wonder if the landing is going to take place on land, or are we going to fall into the the sea?” I tried to chase them away with prayer: “I believe Lord, help my unbelief. May Your will be done. Most holy Theotokos save us.”
Shortly after we could see the airport. The runaway was covered in white foam and there were many ambulances already standing by. No other plane was in sight; they had obviously given us priority to land. We seemed to be descending very quickly compared with other times. There were only a few meters left between us and the ground. When the plane touched down it miraculously stopped after 50 meters, without any of us being moved from our seats, not even a little. There were no engines left so as to put them in reverse to help us brake, and the brakes from the wheels would have been extremely abrupt (quite dangerous actually), so as to stop in only 50 meters, and even so we would have all been thrown forward due to inertia! (Even in a car, when one breaks suddenly at a low speed, his body moves forward.) Nothing like that happened. The plane did not stop according to the laws of physics, but as if it was placed softly on the ground!
Full of relief, we all started giving thanks: “Glory to You, Lord,” “Thank you Panagia,” “May Your name be blessed, Lord.”
Only the stewardesses began having panic attacks. For at least five minutes, one of them would open a yogurt, eat one spoonful, throw it away and then take another. Another one was constantly opening and closing the metal drawers. And still another was trembling and chattering her teeth.
A little while later we got off the plane, accompanied by police, doctors and nurses and went to one of the waiting rooms, where they tried to revive some who had fainted and offered the rest of us refreshments. Our mouths were dry from the suspense, but none of us cared!
We were alive, that’s all that mattered! A little while later another airplane came to take us to Athens, where we arrived safely. Of course, there were reporters and cameras waiting for us. An anxious friend of mine called me to see if I was alright, because he had seen a clip on one of the big channel’s morning news about our flight, but after the big event it was hushed up carefully.
The next few days went by like this. I saw every little thing as a creation of God, I loved it and was amazed at it. I had stopped getting angry and devoting myself to things of secondary importance. I was trying to respond to God’s love with charitable behavior – not judge, and help others when I could. Unfortunately, after about a week I got back into my daily routine. I am embarrassed to say it, but I didn’t manage to keep within me that newfound peace, prayer, gratitude, and love.
That event completely made me look at things a little differently, to try and get out of the shell of my egocentrism and our absurd way of thinking, which puts everything in little boxes and tries to explain it all with laws and rules. Fear of one’s end accelerates the awareness of one’s mistakes.
The gratefulness that one feels towards the infinite love of God softens his heart, it melts him, through God it makes him love his brothers, creation and at the same time fear that he has perhaps saddened God with some deed and lose what his heart has had a taste of, that gift of love that his soul was created to seek - its union with God.
(I decided to write about this unique experience at the instigation of a dear friend, as a testament to the glory of God, and as a spiritual help for my brothers. Please forgive the personal tone of the account. I merely wished to describe my feelings and the events exactly as we had experienced them. Thank you for your understanding.)
Source (Greek): ERO
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