A Scary Ride and Untimely Deaths
Updated: Feb 2
January 26, 2020, world-famous NBA basketball legend, Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others died in a helicopter crash triggering massive grief worldwide for his fans. It surfaced a frightening small-plane experience in similar conditions I experienced once, and thoughts on untimely death that have brought comfort.
“Pilot to control, Come-in…Come-in...” The pilot’s tense voice grew louder, above the sound of the engine.
I stared out my window. A thick blanket of white fog matched the significant silence from passengers in our island hopper. We sat one behind the other, four on each side of our nine-seater plane. The middle-aged captain manned our airship. I strained to see his facial expression under his cap.
The repeated statement hung suspended alone, answered only by static— like the bad reception on a flailing radio station. But we couldn’t change the channel for relief. Static and more static lingered in our ears.
I had waited a week in Western Samoa for the storms to abate before the notification we were cleared to fly from Apia to American Samoa. The first attempt from Auckland to American Samoa had been diverted to the bigger island—it was too dangerous to attempt a landing on the small airstrip in Pago, Pago, the center of the 11 mile island. Another passenger plane had recently crashed into the high mountains obscured by fog from the storms that drenched and clouded paradise.
Now, it seemed the wait hadn’t made much difference. Our metal plane bobbed in the Pacific winds like a ping pong ball. I touched the frigid window pane inches from my face and scanned our cabin. The white cloud that covered my window, blanketed all the windows—including the pilot. We had zero vision.
After another sudden jerk and fall, my stomach plunged again. I noticed the fingers of the woman seated across from me, the other side of the aisle. They were white also, gripped tightly around the edges of her seat—as tight as her eyelids squeezed shut and her jaws clenched. She was afraid. An ominous feeling morphed into the unthinkable. I suddenly realized…we could die. I stared at the bald head of the priest seated in front of me...and felt a sense of peace.
No one said a word. We rode this wild terrifying ride in silence, each in our own heads. I started talking to God. I’ve never forgotten my thoughts...
Thank you, God, I could turn 23 at Mt Cook in New Zealand. That you helped me finish nursing school. I’m grateful for this trip… I wish I hadn’t wasted moments feeling depressed that I didn’t have a boyfriend. I am really grateful for the life you’ve given me. I hope I can see my family one more time. But, if I don’t, thank you for dying for my sins Lord Jesus. I know I can go to heaven only because of what you’ve done for me. I am ready. But, it would be nice to see my family one more time...
Static. Prayers. Breathing. Fog.
And then… a deep voice broke the repetition. “Ground control to pilot...”
The response was like a song in the night. Our pilot conversed in short quips and aeronautical terms. When he finished, “Roger,” I…we, all heaved a sigh of relief. I don’t remember the landing.
So, I think of Kobe and Gianna in their helicopter flight, this memory fresh again because of those near-death experiences, we never lose. Yes, I have cried like so many and awoke praying for their family. I know the numbness of untimely death, the surreal, unreal, slow unfolding of comprehension…they are not here on earth anymore. The void of their amazing presence, when we lose a life we have loved—is real and palpable. It can even take our breath away.
My personal consolation for Kobe and Gianna and all the other precious lives in the helicopter the mother, the family… is that the helicopter hit the mountain first. I read witness statements, “It hit the mountain directly…"
”I hope the occupants didn’t suffer because it was very, very quick.”
Comfort from our Faith
Kobe attended a Catholic Church service early Sunday morning before boarding his helicopter. This is comforting. Maybe he knew Jesus cried two places in the Bible. The loss of his good friend Lazarus and at the impending fall of Jerusalem, the city he loved. Death and war are never reconcilable. Really. Not until we are all in heaven together and in the City where there is enduring hope and peace and the Lion will lie with the lamb.
Over a year ago, I was hit by a car as I walked my dog. I woke to sirens and screaming…but felt nothing, even though my head bled profusely. No pain. I later said the beautiful fog of shock engulfed me. I couldn’t help but think I could have woken up in heaven. A young man and retired pastor each died the week before and after me, upon being hit by a car. I don’t know why God allowed me to live, but He did.
Hopefully, knowing those we have loved are waiting on the other side, gives us courage to do better here. To honor them by showing them the life they lived helps us live a better life. (I finished a book to my friend’s eulogy music the following year). That’s what they would want. We will hear their voice of encouragement in the inner memories of our heart, in the quotes and quips, we know they would say if they were here. And yes, we know when we do. How do we know?
Because when we live life close, we know them and they know us. We each share our minds and hearts enough that our thoughts and feelings become part of the others. We bond. And love is eternal. It does not fade because we are here and they are there, on the other side of that thin veil, this side of heaven.
When a close friend, a vibrant wife and mother of three died suddenly, we all found comfort in the words underscored in her Bible—the words she felt God gave her when her twin brother had died tragically in his early twenties.
Isaiah 57:1 The righteous perish and no one ponders it in his heart; devout men are taken away and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death.
A few verses down she wrote, this is how I get through, day by day—and had another verse underscored.
Isaiah 57:10 You were wearied by all your ways, but you would not say, ‘it is hopeless. You found renewal of your strength, and so you did not faint.
She always said whenever she looked at the stars she thought of her own Mom's early passing and how she told my friend to think of them as the porch lights waiting for her.
And so we all move through the motions until the fog of grief lifts and the sun beckons us to walk in peace this great circle of life once again.
With every death of someone we love, our longings for heaven grows stronger because that is where our heart is, taken there a piece at a time by the ones we loved on this earth. Dave Dravecky
What we have once enjoyed we can never lose; all that we deeply love becomes a part of us. Helen Keller