“Five Prayers,” Ensign, Mar. 1999, 50–51
Early one Thursday morning in May, our large military jet rolled down the nearly two-mile-long runway for takeoff. Major Dick Legas, my friend and a fellow member of the Church, sat in the left seat. Behind us were 14 ROTC cadets out for an orientation flight and Major Gene Barton’s crew waiting for in-flight air refueling drills. As we lifted off the runway, I raised the landing gear of the four-engine jet. When we reached 206 knots airspeed—barely 10 knots above stall speed—I raised the flaps. Immediately there was a loud bang and the aircraft pulled sharply and began to pull to the right, then pitched and bucked violently.
Time seemed to stop. As the instructor, I handled the controls in an effort to right the stricken aircraft. Quickly I scanned the engine instruments. Number 4 engine had failed. A quick look out the right window confirmed an unbelievable sight—the 28-foot engine had exploded and was spewing pieces of hot metal into the sky and piercing the fuselage and wings of our fuel-laden aircraft.
I shut down the engine and tried to make the aircraft climb to get a larger safety margin. Since we had taken off with an extra-heavy fuel load for the mid-air refueling exercise, we needed to find a deserted area and climb to an altitude where we could safely get rid of nearly 45,000 pounds of extra fuel so it wouldn’t harm people or crops.
I was tiring quickly because I had been continuously fighting to keep the plane under control, all the time worrying that one of the hot engine pieces might hit a fuel tank and set us on fire. Finally we unloaded the fuel and headed for the runway. Luckily, the wind was light and right down the runway, which meant I didn’t have to worry about fighting crosswinds and possibly exceeding the limited control I had over the aircraft.
I brought the aircraft in for landing, braked to a stop, and was met by firefighters. As we exited the aircraft, they and others were there to slap us on the back and congratulate us for saving many lives—and the $100-million plane.
That night, as my wife and I knelt in prayer, I thanked Heavenly Father for His protection. Afterward, my wife said: “Honey, I have something I need to share with you. Last night, when I said my prayers, I felt an extra prompting to ask that you might have special protection as you flew today. I feel my prayer has been answered.” This hit me forcefully. We had received our patriarchal blessings together some years earlier, and she had been promised in hers that if I stayed faithful to the Church, she would never have to worry about my being injured in a plane accident.
The next day I spoke with Major Legas. He told me his wife, Megan, had felt a similar compelling urge to pray for his safety during her nightly prayers. As he finished telling me this, Major Barton, the pilot of the extra crew, who was not a member of the Church, told us that his wife had also felt a special need to pray for his safety.
Later, when I spoke with my parents, who were serving a temple mission in Dallas, Texas, to share with them my close call, my mother said: “I don’t know how to tell you this, but last Tuesday your sister and her husband were at the Salt Lake Temple and felt a strong need to put your name on the prayer roll. And Wednesday, while I was at the Dallas temple, I too felt a need to put your name on the prayer roll.”
As I reviewed the events of our flight, I began to see many blessings I had not stopped to consider. To begin with, the engine that blew up was an outside one, not an inboard engine, which, as it peeled back and sheared off, might have destroyed the tail of the aircraft and made a safe landing impossible. We were fortunate in the timing; if the engine had given out 10 seconds earlier, our airspeed would have been insufficient to keep the aircraft flying. And finally, the weather had been clear and the winds right for landing.
We were pleased to find out later that none of the pieces of the aircraft fell on anyone. One seven-by-eight-foot section was recovered from a field, narrowly missing a house. Other pieces, mainly compressor blades, fell into a field near a chemical warehouse facility that contained a huge propane tank and many 55-gallon drums filled with flammable chemicals, yet not one of the red-hot titanium blades fell inside the fence.
I believe the faith and obedience of five people, who prayed for us that night without knowing why, contributed to the fact that no one was injured in this accident. Our testimonies have grown as we witnessed the importance of acting on the promptings we receive, and we are grateful for Heavenly Father’s protective care because we realize that many lives could have been lost that day.