Thursday, January 13, 2011

Flight 90

On January 13, 1982, a snow and ice storm gridlocked my town, as it did much of the East coast. I’d just moved here as a buyer for a department store, and had worked so much the six months prior, I hadn’t a chance to get to know many people except the folks with which I worked. I certainly didn’t know anyone in my apartment complex. So, stuck inside, I decided to paint that day—something I also hadn’t had time to do much of lately.

I retrieved my watercolors and paper from my closet, set up by a window that overlooked a wooded area in the back of my apartment, then reached over and turned on the radio by my bed.

Late in the afternoon, just after four, a news bulletin announced that a Washington D.C. departing flight, Air Florida flight 90, had gone down in the Potomac just after takeoff. The immediate thought I had was, if the plane didn’t get much lift, there might be survivors. In fact, the burden to pray for those in that plane was so heavy, all I did was pray and paint, pray and paint. It was rare that I’d have so much time just to pray.

I didn’t know the drama unfolding at the time. There were survivors—six of them, one crewmember and five passengers. Flight attendant Kelly Duncan passed the only inflatable device she could find to one of the more seriously injured passengers. Passenger Arland Williams Jr., continually passed the rescue lines to help save others. A bystander on the bridge, Lenny Skutnik, jumped in the frigid water from the 14th Street Bridge to assist. All made it to safety, except for Williams who spent twenty-nine minutes in the icy water before going down with the plane’s tail—the only passenger to die by drowning. The 14th Street Bridge is now named after Arland Williams Jr. He and Lenny Skutnik , and another heroic bystander, Roger Olian, were awarded Coast Guard Gold Lifesaving Medals along with the Coast Guard Helicopter Pilots who heroically assisted in the rescue.

Two of the surviving passengers, Bert Hamilton and Patricia Felch, died in 2002 of natural causes. One survivor, Priscilla Tirado, rarely speaks with reporters, and another, Joseph Stiley has suffered many health problems.

Kelly Duncan later left the aviation industry, and earned a degree in early childhood education, which she’s used to teach children in a Christian school. Now married, Kelly Duncan Moore said to a CNN interviewer in 2005, that the crash changed her priorities. “I feel like everyday has been a blessing. I have a wonderful life…It sounds crazy to say it, but that accident changed my life for good. God used a bad thing to turn my life around."

I’ve often reflected on what difference my prayers and those of others like me might have made in the lives of the survivors that day. I guess I’ll never know until I reach heaven. I do have a note in one of my journals from 1988 of hearing one of the male survivors (didn’t get his name) on a “Focus on the Family” broadcast speak about how he knew he was alive, because people prayed for him.

One thing’s for sure though, I know those prayers made a difference in my life. It was early in my walk with the Lord, and as I found out there were indeed survivors of that crash, I felt my prayers had mattered, which gave me courage to continue praying and to pray boldly.

I painted several pieces that day, which I still have. Two landscapes above and below, and a portrait of a stray cat I was feeding (some things never change), which was lying on my bed at the time.

Today, the families of the seventy-eight people who died in that crash are still missing their loved ones (four died on the 14th Street Bridge when the plane hit it just before the crash). Would you join me in saying a prayer for them? And let’s thank God for the courageous spirit of those who risked their own lives to save others. May their tribe increase.

“And pray in the spirit on all occasions…” Ephesians 6:18.


max harrell said...

One Ringing Bell has sounded and I will joyfully join you in your prayer request. I think it is wonderful that you can combine your call as a prayer warrior with you artist ability. I love praying and do some of my most enjoyable praying while cleaning, organizing and grass mowing.

BTW, just wanted to let you know that I also send up prayers for you, your husband, family and all of the Ringing Bell creatures. Keep on sending out your message. This is sometimes a very dark world we are in and we need the everlasting light to shine on and shine through. You, my dear writer, are a torch bearer. Remember as you lift your arm to bear the torch, that arm is supported by many, many prayers.

Beverly Varnado said...

Carol, Thank you for your encouraging words. You'll never know how much they mean at this very moment. Please know, it is prayer that's carrying me and my family. Blessings, Bev

Just Me'n Mine said...

I was simply going to check the weather forecast yesterday...

I turned on the weather channel and they were showing a rerun of a special about the Air Florida tragedy. My 11 year old daughter and I were transfixed and I have been thinking about it ever since. I have spent the morning researching the information and the surviving passengers and crew. I was particularly burdened about Priscilla Tirado, the one who rarely speaks to reporters and about whom, I can find almost nothing. She lost her husband and her new baby. I am praying for her, today, May 12, 2012. I don't even know if she is still alive, but she would be about 73 years old. That is just two years older than my mother. I was only 13 at the time of the crash, but am now 43 and exactly the age she would have been at that time. Oh how my heart hurts for her, for her loss. I want her to have some joy. I pray that she has had, or will have, in whatever time she has left on this earth, some world rocking joy to offset the pain she has experienced...and more than anything that she would know the feel of her Heavenly Father's arms wrapping her up in His love and protection.

I'm really just commenting here to let you, obviously a sister in Christ, know that I love that you paint and pray. How amazing that we can always pray, and that it has eternal consequences, especially in those situations when we know of absolutely nothing else we can do.

Leisl Lemire

Beverly Varnado said...

I so agree. These kind of tragedy survivors sometimes face the same road as war veterans, so prayer is essential. Thank you for taking the time to read. Many blessings to you!


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