I leaned forward in my pilot’s seat, straining to see any sign of the skies clearing in the distance. But there was nothing. I’d been flying my Cessna single-engine plane through thick dark clouds for more than an hour, across the length of Pennsylvania. The stress of navigating in “pea soup” was definitely getting to me. My wife, Chiqui, was next to me. Our young daughters, Almarie and Sissel, behind us. You’re putting their lives in danger, I thought. You should have never taken off from Pittsburgh in conditions like these.
I was a veteran pilot, based in Guatemala and certified to fly instrument-only—that is, without being able to see the ground. But a certification didn’t take away the stress of constantly checking my altitude, that the plane was level, that I was on course, listening for airport radio traffic—things that didn’t require as much diligence in good weather. My shoulders and neck were stiff. I hadn’t relaxed them once since we took off.
And I still hadn’t hit my biggest problem: landing in Lancaster, our destination. I had no way of knowing how low the cloud cover would be, when I’d actually be able to put eyes on the runway. Plus, my plane didn’t have an indicator to tell me when I was nearing the runway. Most of my flying was in Guatemala, where airports didn’t have those kind of beacons. Making that final descent was going to be no picnic. As of now, Lancaster was still reporting minimum conditions for landing. If it got worse, I’d have to divert, but things were no better anywhere on the East Coast.
I looked over at Chiqui, her head bent in prayer. I wasn’t going to say anything to alarm her more. The girls were talking and laughing, oblivious to the danger.
We were headed for a church revival meeting in Lancaster. I was scheduled to preach and give a presentation about the aviation ministry I ran in Guatemala, hoping to raise funds. For the past five years I’d flown ministers to churches in jungle villages where few roads even reached. I loved my work, but it was expensive.
Once a year we came to the U.S. to raise money. That’s why I hadn’t wanted to cancel this flight. Every stop was important. I’d waited for hours hoping the skies would clear. Finally, at 5:30 P.M. I’d made the choice to take off. I knew that the sun would be setting by the time we landed, only adding to the challenge, but I’d told myself everything would be okay.
Now I recognized my confidence for what it was: pilot arrogance. “Get-home-itis” I called it, a stubborn determination to reach a destination. Placing too much trust in my own abilities.
The radio crackled with instructions from the control tower. “Descend to three thousand feet.”
My hands gripped the yoke tighter. Lord, help me, I thought—more an involuntary thought than an actual prayer. I nosed the plane downward. “Lancaster tower, cleared to three thousand feet,” I said into the mike, checking the altimeter. I just hoped I wasn’t coming in too fast. Down, down we went, with still no sign of the ground below. My stomach was in knots. Focus, focus, I told myself.
From the back of the plane I heard a voice, little Almarie’s. “Mommy, I see angels in the clouds.”
What on earth? “Chiqui, take a look outside. Do you see anything?”
“Yes, there are angels,” she said. But all I saw was the ground below. And a high-tension electrical wire just feet away from my wheels. In seconds we’d be toast.
I pulled hard on the yoke, my arms straining, willing the plane to climb faster. Slowly, slowly it responded. We missed the wire by inches.
I radioed the control tower that I’d missed the approach and was making another attempt.
“Lancaster tower, please let me know when I’m over the beacon,” I said. The controller could track my location on radar.
“Roger that,” came the reply.
I circled around. This time I got the word when I was over the beacon. I eased the plane downward. There was the runway, and my approach was perfect. My shoulders relaxed. Seconds later the wheels touched down. The girls cheered. Night was falling. We had just enough time to make it to the revival.
God had known our position when I could not. And sent flight controllers from heaven to protect us. I was beyond grateful, but I’d also learned a lesson: to put my ultimate trust not in myself, but in the one who guides our paths.
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