July 10, 2010

The Plane That Almost Crashed: A Passenger Recounts

This is a true account of events as described by a passenger aboard a plane, returning from the Holy Land on the 29th August 2003:

We had a magnificent time. The previous day we had celebrated the Dormition of our Lady at her church where her resting place is, since this feast is celebrated in Jerusalem on the 28th August, that is, 13 days later than the date celebrated in Greece. We lived through a unique experience. Late in the afternoon we packed our bags and took part in the all-night vigil at the Holy Sepulcher. Soon afterwards we boarded the bus which was waiting for us just outside the old city.

The weather was good and the sky clear and starlit. When we eventually boarded the plane - if I remember correctly it was a twin engine Airbus - I noticed that its lights were twinkling all the time. I thought that some wire was not making contact properly, and I sat deeply into my seat. When we took off the problem was less noticeable. I was sitting with my mother on the left side of the aircraft, in front of the wing.

Twenty minutes later we heard a loud noise and the aircraft started trembling and leaning on one side and then the other. The pilot told us in Hebrew and then in English to remain seated and fasten our seatbelts. The stewardesses did the same. In the beginning we did not pay much attention to this, until I turned and saw one of the engines on fire. Pieces of burning metal were strewn in the air. After a reassuring preamble I showed it to my mother and my other friends. We tensed somewhat, but we didn’t show our concern. As I have learned afterwards, some of us started praying with the Jesus Prayer ['Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me'].

A few minutes later the pilot confirmed that we had lost the left engine and that he was going to try to land at Eleftherios Venizelos airport in Athens, using the other engine.

Less than twenty minutes later we heard a similar, less loud noise and felt the same strong vibrations, mixed with turbulence. Some people, sitting on the right hand side shouted: "The engine is on fire!"

The atmosphere in the plane which up to then was mostly calm changed into panic. The aircraft was losing altitude quickly. I remembered that the noise which I was hearing, like a whistle, resembled whistle bombs make when falling. The stewardesses, who had started offering refreshments, secured the trolleys and ran to their seats, fastened their seatbelts and put their heads on their knees.

Several people with heart problems and some elderly were taking pills two at a time. Spouses were publicly confessing when and where they had committed adultery and were asking for forgiveness. Grandfathers and grandmothers were asking for forgiveness from their grandchildren because they had not included them in their will, and grandchildren were apologizing for past inappropriate behavior. They were all receiving forgiveness. Friends were revealing that they had lied and calumniated against each other.

The plane started leaning on one side and we realized that the pilot was trying to turn back to either Tel Aviv, or Cyprus.

One priest stood up and said: “Do not be frightened, my brothers, let us pray. God will not abandon us”. The other priests put on their epetrachili [priest stole] and started reading prayers, some others were reciting the Jesus Prayer and the rest divided themselves into two groups and started reading the Supplication to the Panagia (Paraklisi tis Panagias) and the Salutations to our Lady (Hairetismoi) on the left and the right hand side of the cabin. We placed our hopes in our Lord and felt a lot better.

Non-Christian passengers, a lot more scared than us, thought we had been singing and believed we had gone crazy.

This soothing attitude was suddenly broken by the voice of the captain: “As you have already realized we have lost the second engine a while ago, we have emptied our fuel tanks, and we will try to return to Ben Gurion airport but...” He suddenly stopped. We froze... It is one thing to imagine something awful is about to happen and another thing to have it officially confirmed! After the initial uncomfortable moments we continued our prayers from where we had left off. I was surprised that people, who seemed not to believe, had started praying feverishly.

I started to behave rationally, to the point of being accused of insensitivity. Hoping to console those who had been crying, I explained calmly: “We will all die one day. This cannot be changed. What is important therefore? How many years we will live and how we will live them. We all want to live for many years, but if God has decided otherwise, this cannot be changed. Besides, there is nothing we can do to save ourselves and that we have not done. Therefore, let’s accept that today we will be called to account for our lives. What therefore is left for us to do? To honestly pray and ask sincerely for the forgiveness of our sins. But we must also place our hope in God. Why? Because, His infinite love for us would not permit something to happen to the detriment of our souls. That means that if He decides to take our souls today, He will take us at the best moment of our lives. Most of us have confessed and took Holy Communion yesterday; therefore, we are ready as much as we will ever be. Think about what would have happened had we not been ready? Those of us who visited the Holy Land did not do it as tourists but as worshippers. Do you think the Lord and our Lady, for whom we had made this trip, will abandon us?"

Turbulence was continuing again quite strongly. We were flying low; I could distinguish the islands and the far away terrain. Then suddenly, the same priest who had pressed us to pray got up and said in a loud voice, full of conviction and with tears in his eyes:

“My children, please believe me. I can see our Lady, huge, standing in front of us, holding the plane by the belly!!!. We will be saved! We will be saved!" And weeping he said: “Let us pray to thank her!”

Then all the passengers took heart and started chanting the Paraklisi, louder and happier this time. Even the stewardesses realized that something good was happening and they were consoled, looking amazed at us.

Soon, we could see clearly the buildings in Tel Aviv, since we had already been flying very low. The runway was covered in white foam and many ambulances were already standing by. No other plane was in sight. They had obviously given us priority to land. We seemed to descend very quickly compared with other times.

When the plane touched down it miraculously stopped after 50 meters, without anyone of us moving from his place even by a centimeter. Even in a car, when one breaks suddenly, the passengers move forward. Nothing like this happened. The plane did not stop according to the law of physics, but as if it was placed softly on the ground!
We all started praising the Lord and our Lady. Only the stewardesses had began having panic attacks.

After a while we got off the plane, accompanied by police, doctors and nurses, and went to the waiting rooms. We had been offered refreshments and the officers were trying to comfort some people. Our mouths were dry, but none of us cared! We were alive, thanks to our Lord’s providence, and we were feeling very thankful for this.

In the days that followed, I continued to be thankful. I was seeing everything as God’s creation; I would love it and admire it. I had stopped being angry and immersing myself in superficial things. I was trying to respond to God’s love by behaving with leniency, without judgment and helping others, as much as I could.

Unfortunately a week later, I returned to my daily routine. I am embarrassed to say but I could not preserve inside me the same unique feelings of serenity, prayer, love, gratitude.

(I have decided to write about this true experience at the instigation of a dear friend, as a show of gratitude to our Lord, and as an effort to spiritually support my brothers who maybe wavering. Please forgive the personal note of the account. I merely wished to describe my feelings and the events exactly as we had lived through them. Thank you for your understanding.)


Translated by: Olga Konaris Kokkinos
Edited by: John Sanidopoulos