Rescue from Crash

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by Kelly Moore as told to Joy Beverly

 It was an ordinary Saturday morning, so ordinary its details are now forgotten. But that evening my five-year-old daughter, Kinsey, and I were to attend a mother/daughter banquet at church, and Kinsey was bouncing with excitement.

As I got dressed in my bedroom with the television on in the background, the newscast suddenly caught my attention. I moved closer to the set, a sick feeling forming in my stomach. While the details were scarce, the aerial shots of the Valujet plane crash in the Everglades convinced me everyone on board must be dead.

If it weren’t for how much it meant to Kinsey, I would have considered not attending the banquet that night. I knew many well-meaning people would question me about my reaction to the crash, and I wasn’t sure I could handle it. While I knew no one on the Valujet plane, I felt connected—connected by a memory that sometimes seems forgotten but always is there.

On a bitterly cold January day in 1982, I strapped myself into the rear jump seat of Air Florida Flight 90, took a deep breath, and prepared for takeoff from Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C. As a flight attendant, I’d spent my day placating passengers who were either fearful or furious because of our many delays due to icy weather. Finally, after de-icing, our flight was allowed to leave. I was as glad as the passengers that we were finally getting underway, and settled back with a sigh of relief.

I knew most young women envied my lifestyle. My job offered exotic travel, and my life at home in Miami was one of constant parties and friends. But lately the partying left me empty. Was there more to life? I wondered. But everyone around me was as mixed up as I was, no one had any answers.

As we began our trip down the runway, the plane picked up speed. But something wasn’t quite right. Although I didn’t realize it at first, we weren’t getting off the ground as quickly as we should have. A few seconds later, we were airborne. But we were 1,900 feet farther down the runway and 15 seconds later than we should have been for a normal takeoff.

When we’d been in the air only a few moments, the plane began to shudder violently. Instinctively I tightened my seat belt. One of the passengers looked at me, terror distorting his face. But after that horrible image, my memory stops. I have no recollection of the 737 crashing against the 14th Street Bridge over the Potomac River, then plunging toward the ice-crusted river. I don’t remember the plane slicing through the three-inch thick sheet of ice and crumbling into pieces. What I do remember is suddenly being free in the water, with no idea of how I got there. As I surfaced, I clung to pieces of metal wreckage floating nearby and tried to look for other survivors. The icy water made my entire body numb.

Other people floated near me, clutching at the cold metal and trying to stay afloat. But I saw none of my coworkers, none of the flight crew, none of my friends. Later I learned 74 people died in the crash. Only 5 survived.

As I clutched the wreckage and tried to stay above water, my hands began to stick to the cold metal; I lifted them one at a time to keep them from freezing. My elation at having survived the crash was replaced by the fear I wouldn’t be rescued in time. People stood at the banks of the Potomac but were unable to help us because of the icy expanse that separated us. I knew the only way we could be rescued was to be lifted out of the river. In my desperation, I did something I’d never done before: I prayed. I prayed to somehow be lifted up. And though it was my very first prayer—offered in desperation and ignorance—God answered me.

After 20 minutes in the freezing water, I heard the beautiful sound of an approaching helicopter. It was nearly impossible for any of us to catch the rescue rope and hold on while we were pulled to safety. Every survivor was seriously injured, besides being weak and stiff from the cold. After several tries, I was the second one of the survivors to be able to get the rescue rope around me. While the others were eventually dragged through the water to safety, I was the only one who was completely lifted up out of the water, as I’d prayed.

While being transported to a nearby hospital, I realized God had saved me from the crash I didn’t know why, but I knew it was his strength that allowed me to grasp that rope with frozen hands when I had no strength. Lying in the hospital, I quietly prayed, "God, please tell me what I’m supposed to do next."

A couple of days later, when I was moved from intensive care to a regular room, I woke to see a nurse standing over me. She smiled, covering my fingers with her warm, gentle hand, and said, "Little girl, I could get in big trouble for telling you this, but God loves you and he saved you from that plane crash for a reason." In response to my eager interest, my nurse risked her job to tell me of Jesus’ love for me. As she spoke of how he died for me, I responded by turning my life over to Him. For the first time I felt real peace.

When I prayed to accept Christ, I asked God to show me how I could know more about him. I knew he would answer me.

By this time many of my family members and friends had arrived at the hospital. I tried to tell them about my experience with God, but they believed my interest in spiritual things was just a response to the shock from the accident.

After seeing the rescue on television, people from all over the country sent me get-well cards and gifts. Tired of my excitement about my new faith, a friend tried to distract me by asking me to open one of the gifts that had been sent. I wearily complied, realizing he was embarrassed by all my talk about God. He was confused by my conversion and probably just wanted "the old Kelly" back. But as I took the gift he handed me, I continued to talk about my experience with God. "I don’t even know where to start in this kind of life," I told him. And as I tore open the gift, I unwrapped the answer to my third prayer.

Inside the package was a Bible. Tucked inside the cover was a note from a stranger in California who’d seen the rescue on the news. The note said that if I’d never read the Bible, the book of John was a good place to start! I started there—and have never stopped wanting to know more about Christ.

Others visited me and I continued to talk about my experience with God. A flight attendant who’d survived a similar crash visited me and listened patiently as I told her about my experience with God’s forgiveness and power. When she said, "I know how you feel. I went through the same experience of thinking about God after the crash," I thought I’d found someone who truly understood. But then she added, "Don’t worry. Your interest in God will soon pass." After she left, I lay in my bed crying, begging God not to let it pass.

During my recovery, I stayed with my family in Atlanta, but instead of a quiet recovery I found myself at the center of the media’s attention. Reporters camped out on my parents’ lawn, waiting for me to leave the house so they could pressure me for an interview. I even saw a photographer trying to take a photo of me through a closed window from outside the house.

My family urged me to go outside and grant the reporters an interview, arguing that if I gave them a statement, they would go away. I thought maybe this was my chance to tell the world what God had done in my life.

So I finally went outside to face the horde of reporters. I told them how God had taken care of me and how I had changed. But their questions focused instead on the details of the crash. When I read the article that had been written the next day, I was shocked at how they’d distorted my words.

I felt betrayed and began to wonder whom I could trust. That’s when God managed to bring people into my life who helped me look to God for strength in recovering from the trauma of the crash. Loving Christians taught me how to follow God through Bible study, prayer, fellowship, and quiet time with God. A special woman named Gladys Coggeshall spent time with me, answering all my questions—questions I felt too shy to ask out loud among other Christians. She showed me how to memorize Scripture to fill my mind with good thoughts to replace the bad. After being broken physically, spiritually, and mentally by the events surrounding the crash, God began to heal me in every way.

After about a month, I returned to Miami where Gladys helped me contact another Christian woman who continued to help me grow. I attended a local church and began to pray about returning to flying.

My thoughts were a mixture of fear and indecision, but I felt as though God wanted me to go back to Air Florida and resume work. After about five months of recovery time and recurrent training, I stepped back into an airplane for my first day of flying.

At first everything seemed fine. The flight crew was aware of the detail of my past few months and was eager to help me make my first flight a success. But as the plane prepared for take-off and I once again strapped myself into the jump seat, panic enveloped me. I thought, What am I doing here? Why am I putting myself through this? But then Philippians 4:6-7 flooded my mind, and just as suddenly as the panic had come, peace replaced it, along with a sense that I was doing the right thing.

One day a young man in the church named John asked me to go to dinner. I remember telling my roommates I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go—I didn’t know if I wanted to date anymore. But I went, and our date was different from anything I’d ever experienced. We sat together for hours, talking about the Lord and what he’d done in our lives. God had again sent someone into my life to guide and lead me. A few months later, about one year after the accident, John and I married. I continued to work until Air Florida was bought by another company. With John’s support and encouragement I quit work to go back to school and complete an early childhood education degree. John and I started a family, and I was able to stay home with the children for several years before beginning my second career as a teacher.

Sometimes I’m vividly reminded of the crash, like when my daughter Kinsey asked me not to fly to another city when I was asked to speak about my experience. "Please don’t go, Mommy. I don’t want you to die in a plane crash!" she begged.

"Kinsey," I gently reminded her, "I don’t want to die either, but if God has it in his plans for me, then it is perfect for me. No matter what the outcome, I have to do what He tells me to do."

I don’t know why God saved me from the Potomac that day when others died, or why He answered my desperate prayers for contact with Him. But I do know God used compassionate, ordinary people to bring His love to me when I desperately needed it. In His infinite mercy, He rescued me not once, but twice.

“This article first appeared in the Jan/Feb issue of TODAY’S CHRISTIAN WOMAN.”