Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the type of plane involved. It was a 757, not a 747.
My younger siblings and I were in the back seat of the family minivan. I was holding a steaming cardboard box of pizza on my lap. The clock on the dashboard read 5:17 p.m., and we were starving. “Let’s get home while it’s still hot,” we begged. The car smelled of cheese and pepperoni, and every second we delayed was torture. Mom started to turn the key in the ignition–and then stopped.
“Kids,” she said, suddenly, urgently, “we need to pray.” I heard the concern in her voice. “Let’s pray. Right now. For Dad.”
Normally we didn’t pray like this, but my brothers, sisters and I all bowed our heads and prayed for Dad’s safety. I wasn’t so hungry anymore. Was Dad okay? That same evening, 600 miles away at LaGuardia Airport in New York City, my father was sitting in the cockpit of a commercial airliner, preparing for take-off. The copilot looked over the instrument panel.
“Check. That’s everything, Captain,” he told Dad. As my father crossed the last item off of his pre-flight checklist, the flight attendant popped her head into the cockpit. “Everyone’s seated, Captain. We’ve got a full plane today: 139 people.”
Dad taxied toward the runway. Once in position, Dad stopped the plane and waited for clearance from air-traffic control. Pretty soon a voice came crackling over the radio: “Flight 232, you are now clear for takeoff.” But instead of barreling down the runway at 150 miles per hour, Dad hesitated.
The copilot stared at him. “Captain?” he said.
“We’re not accepting that clearance for takeoff,” Dad told him.
“What? Why?” the copilot asked.
“We’re not accepting that clearance,” Dad repeated, standing firm.
Later that evening, Mom got a call from Dad.
We all gathered around her as they spoke on the phone, eager to learn if anything had occurred. “See you soon, honey,” she told Dad finally, and hung up. With a trace of tears in her eyes, Mom turned to us kids.
“Mom, is everything okay?” my older brother asked. “Is Dad all right?” I piped up.
Mom told us the story. “This afternoon your father was sitting on the runway when he got the clearance for takeoff. LaGuardia Airport is always busy, so when you get a clearance, you go. But for some reason he sensed that he should wait. Sensed it very clearly.”
“What happened?” my sister asked. My mother put her arm around my youngest brother. “Seconds later he and his copilot heard a rumble. Just then, a 757 broke out of the clouds and landed… on the very same runway that had just been cleared for Dad. If he hadn’t waited those extra seconds, the two planes would have collided.”
We all sat in wonder. Had our prayers really saved our father from an unthinkable disaster? There was only one way to be sure.
“What time was this?” I asked.
My mother wiped her eyes. “5:17 p.m.,” she said.