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“Crash,” New Era, Apr. 1981, 33


He wasn’t afraid of dying—he just wanted to set his life in order first

On June 11, 1979, I climbed aboard a DC-3 that was headed for the Moose Creek Ranger Station in northern Idaho where I was to spend my summer working for the forest service. The station is 21 miles from the nearest road and about 60 air miles from the forest headquarters at Grangeville.

At about 9:30 A.M. the plane left the Grangeville airfield. Everything went fine until about halfway through the 30-minute flight. Suddenly the plane’s engines got very quiet. When I looked out the windows, I noticed that only one engine was running. A few seconds later the starboard engine exploded, and flames enveloped the entire right side of the plane. Everyone aboard (10 forest service employees and 2 crew members) was very quiet and frozen with fear, it seemed.

Never in my life had I been as terrified as I then was. All I could think about was the life I had led up to this time. I wasn’t so much afraid of dying, but I was terrified at the thought of having to come to judgment so soon. I have a terrible habit of procrastinating, and I had always had the idea that I could “play today and repent tomorrow.”

Meanwhile, the plane was steadily losing altitude and was pitching and bucking fiercely. I wanted desperately to get out alive so that I could get my life in order.

In the midst of this turmoil a voice seemed to speak to me. It said, “Bryant, why don’t you pray?” So I prayed, desperately and fervently. I asked for many things, but I clearly remember asking the Lord to help me accept his will. I also asked him to comfort me and to help my family understand. As I finished praying, we were just on the verge of crashing, perhaps 100 feet above the treetops. The pilot had been giving us instructions to fasten seat belts.

I was at this time very calm and collected. I no longer feared dying. In fact, I was actually curious as to what it would be like to die and who I might meet in the next world. About this time the plane hit a tree and veered sharply into the river. Authorities say that the plane hit the water at about 100 miles per hour.

When the plane hit, there was a terrific jolt, and several aftershocks. As the plane came to rest in the Selway River, I was thrown hard against my seat belt. I then came to my senses and thought, “I’m alive.” But what I saw made my blood run cold. The plane was floating down the river, which was at flood stage. The water was very high and very rough. Debris from the wreck was floating all around, and there was a sickening silence. I was still fastened to my seat by my safety belt, and I was sitting waist-deep in water. The water itself was colored a deep red with the blood of the passengers whom I could see in the plane. They looked unconscious. I tried to release some of them from their seat belts, but I couldn’t because the swirling water made it too difficult, and I was forced to abandon the plane.

The cargo doors of the plane were ripped open, so I let myself down through them, then tried to swim. The water was very fast and extremely hard to keep afloat in. I was caught in an undertow and forced to the bottom of the river.

One more time I asked the Lord to preserve my life and give me the strength I needed to pull myself from the river. Once again, as instantly as in my earlier prayer, confidence came to me. I felt a terrific amount of renewed energy, and when I was released from the eddy, which was holding me to the bottom, I found myself being swept down the river, right next to the bank. I grabbed hold of a tilting rock and easily pulled myself from the river.

Upon getting ashore I saw two other survivors, so I treated one for shock, then stopped the bleeding of the other and splinted his fractured leg. Then I started to walk the 12 miles to the Moose Creek Ranger Station to obtain help. The first two miles were very steep and without trails, but I’d worked in that area before so I knew which direction to go. I got very tired but eventually found help. Later I found out that one of the people I’d helped didn’t live. Only I and one other person survived the crash.

This experience has taught me many things about myself and about life. First of all, I have learned not to procrastinate. You never know when it will be your time to die. I can testify to you that there is no greater fear than knowing that you aren’t living the life you should when you are about to die. It is a fear that gnaws at you from deep in your soul. You realize how silly all earthly desires are, and how expedient it is for you to put the Lord first in your life. Secondly, I know for certain that the Lord is always near, that he hears and answers prayers, and that he loves each of us very much.

This is my testimony: The Church is true. Spencer W. Kimball is the prophet. Heavenly Father and his son Jesus Christ are real, glorified, tangible persons who love and appreciate each of us, just as we should love them. The only way to personal happiness is to keep the Lord first in our lives, and all other things should be second.

Illustrated by Allen Garns