Friday, January 16, 2009

The Last Flight Home

The NASCAR season was ending for 2008, and I was on schedule to fly a 1900 for Petty Enterprises and Kevin Harvick Racing for the race in Atlanta. That flight went as planned and uneventful, just the way I like them to go. But then, I was out of work, with no jobs on the horizon. Flying had come to a halt.

One morning about 6am, I received a call from a good friend of mine, asking if I would be interested in flying a pop-up flight. Naturally I said sure, and shortly there after the Captain of the flight called me and explained the nature of the flight.

Apparently there had been an accident. A young man in college, 19 years old, had gone to Chattanooga to meet some friends and some of his brothers for a weekend of hiking and fellowship. They had decided to go for a midnight hike up in the small mountains that surround Chattanooga. At about 3am, the young man, with all his friends, walked up to a cliff area to peer over the edge. He lost his footing on the loose gravel rocks and fell 80 feet to the bottom. The call I received from the Captain at 6am was every parent's worst nightmare call. Come quickly, there has been an accident, your son has been hurt, come quickly!

I hurried to get myself together, and drove as quickly as possible to the airport, fully knowing that the parents of the young man would probably already be there. I tried to formulate some kind of intelligent words that I could say to the mother of that boy upon my arrival, but the words just wouldn't come.

I arrived at the airport just one hour after my initial wake-up call, and ran into the FBO. There, the visibly disturbed parents and friends nervously were standing and crying. I still didn't know what I was going to say, but I went straight to the gathering of people, introduced myself as one of the pilots for the flight, and stretched out my arms to the mother and gave her a hug telling her that I would be praying for her son and family during the flight over. As soon as the Captain and I were airborn and out of the traffic area, both of us bowed our heads and prayed.

The flight was eerie quiet for the hour to get to Chattanooga. We landed there and had transportation waiting for the family. They left the airport area within 2 minutes of us pulling up to the ramp.

We flew back to Concord, NC empty right afterwards. The next day, that dreaded phone call was received. The captain called me at about 10am the next day and explained that the young man had passed away, and we needed to fly back to Chattanooga that day to pick up the family to bring them home.

My heart just sunk down to my feet. Tears rushed to my eyes as I just fell to my knees and prayed. All I could think about was that young mother and the pain that she and her family must be feeling. Then I thought about my own children and the thought of loosing one of them. The pain of something like that would be unbearable, to say the least.

I was really dreading the flight back from Chattanooga. What do you say to a mother that has just lost her son? We arrived in Chattanooga around noon. Shortly there after, the family arrived. The family looked like they had been crying for most of the night, and the mother was almost numb in her appearance. I rushed over to her, not even knowing what I could say, and just wrapped her up in my arms. I could feel just an inkling of the pain that was filling her body. I couldn't say a word, just "I am terribly sorry", and I fought back the tears as they were streaming down my cheek.

After a few moments, we loaded up the airplane for the trip home, and departed Chattanooga for the last time, for that family.

That had to have been the worst flight that I have ever had to fly. I couldn't stop the sudden outbursts of tears that kept coming as I thought about that family for days after the flight. I thought to myself, "I hope I never have to fly another one of those again."

It has been several months since that flight, and I have had time to re-run and digest every minute of it. I think now that there was a reason that God chose me to be on that flight. You see, the co-pilot that was previously working for the company was an atheist. He left the company just a short while before I was asked to fly this flight. Even though I couldn't offer words of encouragement or just say or do something that could ease their pain, I could feel God there. The bible says, "where two or more gather in my (Jesus) name, I will be there". I know that I could do nothing to help that family, but I think that God wanted the family to fly home with pilots that had God as their Captain.