Monday, November 2, 2015

Emergency Landing in Wichita, KS...

I began this story on September 10th.  I return today, November 2nd, to conclude this story of what happened to us that day and what my thoughts are as I recall this incident.

John and I boarded our Delta flight in La Crosse, WI this morning, September 10, 2015 as we headed back to our home in TX.  We were just ending our wonderful time of family reunion there over Labor Day weekend.  The weather had been perfect as had been the conversations and connections with family and friends - some planned and others serendipitous.  The whole 10 days of being there had been a very special time for me.

Our flight to Minneapolis - St. Paul went as planned and I kept my eyes glued out the window to the beautiful green of the lush fields and forests below in WI and MN.

We had a long layover in the MSP airport which allowed us to catch up with emails, reading and first of the month book work for me.

As our flight readied for take-off at about 5:40 PM, one of the pilots welcomed us as usual and mentioned severe storms in Nebraska which would cause our route to take a path around the area of concern.  We took off.  All went well.  We were both tired and napped for the first hour.  We woke as beverage service reached our seats near the back of the plane.  We were served, the cart moved past us and then we started to experience some significant turbulence.  We noticed flashes of lightening and looked at each other with concerned surprise.  The flight attendant serving the drinks stayed still but decided to return to the front of the plane when the turbulence seemed to let up.  He had just gotten to the front when an announcement was made that the storm was continuing for another 15 minutes so we would climb about 2000 feet where we could hopefully get above the storm.  The plane was moving up and seemed to be getting away from the storm when suddenly lightening flashed, the plane shuddered and swooped downward and immediately back up as though we were an amusement park roller coaster ride.  Neither of us felt sick but I felt sure there would be passengers that would be getting very upset with the sudden shaking and swooping of the plane.

We had been holding hands while we napped but had detached to tighten our seat-belts and put away all our reading material, finish our drinks and prepare for more turbulence.  We said little but squeezed our fingers together tightly and prayed silently.  As I looked around, I was noting one man across from me with his head down and his hands gripped tightly into fists.  I thought he was surely praying.  The passengers were all quiet and I wondered if they, too, were thinking that we might be taking the last flight of our lives.

Within a couple of minutes, a flight attendant began to tell us that we would be landing within 10 minutes in Wichita.  She said that the storm had generated some cockpit warnings that required our plane to land.  She said one of the pilots would probably give us more information before landing but that they were quite busy as she was speaking.  Neither of the pilots was able to talk to the passengers before we landed.

I prayed and prepared for whatever would happen during this emergency landing.

We heard the landing gear unfold and knew that was good news.  We landed normally though perhaps with more speed than usual as it seemed there was sharp braking as we landed.  I looked out of the window and saw a number of vehicles on the runway with flashing red and blue lights - emergency vehicles ready to respond if there was fire or some other crisis.  As I saw that preparation for our emergency, the tears threatening to flow began to trickle down my cheeks.  It has been somewhat scary and I was very thankful to land safely.  Even though I feel ready to die, I told God I really wanted to live longer.

We have been in Wichita for about 5 hrs.  A plane and crew have just arrived from Atlanta and we'll be boarding in about 30 minutes to finish our trip back to San Antonio, TX.  Then we'll have a one hour drive to Kerrville.

Delta has been taking care of us with drinks, snacks and pizza.  This section of the Wichita airport opened June 3 so it is quite lovely.  All have been genuinely caring and the airport comfortable.

We have an email from Delta already to let us know that we are each receiving 10,000 miles for the delay and inconvenience in our return to San Antonio. I have learned that our plane was "struck at least once by lightening which damaged/destroyed some of the systems of the plane" - unusual for the altitude of our plane I was told by the Delta rep waiting with us. That man also told me that pilots train thousands of hours in simulators to deal with the type of situation we were in today. A man sitting across the aisle from me with whom I've had a conversation since deplaning was sure his life was about to end. He flies frequently and hadn't experienced the type of turbulence we had today before. He said he knew he would be in heaven after he died but he was concerned about his wife and children.

I am grateful.  I am alive.  I was ready if our plane would have crashed.

We are about to board.  It is about 12:17am - just after midnight.

Now to continue the story on Nov. 2, 2015...

A statement about our emergency landing included the following paragraph which was posted on an aviation website by September 12th.
Last Update: 2015-09-14 22:35:44 GMT
An Expressjet Canadair CRJ-700 on behalf of Delta Airlines, registration N710EV (our reports database features 0 other incidents for the same aircraft, Expressjet has been listed 66 times within our reports database) performing flight EV-5151/DL-5151 from Minneapolis,MN to San Antonio,TX (USA) with 65 people on board, was step climbing from FL360 to FL380 about 80nm northeast of Wichita,KS (USA) when the crew reported a lightning strike and decided to divert to Wichita where the aircraft landed safely about 25 minutes later.

The aircraft is still on the ground in Wichita about 18 hours later, lighting strike marks were found at its left hand wing.

A replacement Canadair CRJ-900 reached San Antonio with a delay of 6 hours.
I read the above paragraph that was published by Sept. 12th but I did not realize there was added information until I returned to the website as I began to add to this blog.  I now learn of an update with further information which was posted on September 14th and is copied below.

On Sep 14th 2015 The Aviation Herald learned that the aircraft experienced the failure of all air data computers including standby resulting in altitude and airspeed indications becoming unreliable.
I now have learned of the severity of the lightening strike to our plane.  "...failure of all air data computers including standby..."   No wonder our flight crew decided to emergency land as soon as possible and no wonder emergency response vehicles were ready for our landing in Wichita, Kansas.

Since I do not have expertise in aviation, I do not fully understand how serious our circumstances were.  But "failure of all"  sounds rather dire to me.  I was told that pilots train many hours on simulators for just such an emergency.  Planes are designed to withstand lightening strikes.  Airports have emergency response equipment and personnel available for whatever arises as flights enter their location.

I sit at my computer today typing about this incident knowing that all the preparation for this "act of God" (the lightening strike of the plane at 35,000+ ft of altitude) and the protection plan of God himself, resulted in the safe landing of my flight.

But I also know that there could have been a different result.  I do not know "why" my husband and I plus the other 63 passengers on this plane had this result when other planes crash with catastrophic loss of life.  I do not wish to claim I understand why God preserved our lives during this flight.

Though I do not fully understand "why", I am very grateful.  And I have a sense that perhaps I have been given extended days to the length of my life.

With this provision, I now face the following question.
How will you live during your extended time on earth?
My response is not lightly considered.  I am still contemplating ways in which to answer this question.  One thing that is helping me in this process is the Experiencing God study I'm involved in at our church.  Henry Blackaby wrote this study many years ago but the godly wisdom of this material remains crucial for Christ followers at any time.  Our pastor is leading this study.

I will close this post with a quote from the lesson I'm doing this week.
"When God speaks to you, revealing what He is about to do, that revelation is your invitation to adjust your life to Him.  Once you have adjusted your life to Him, His purposes, and His ways, you are in a position to obey.  Adjustments prepare you for obedience.  You cannot comtinue life as usual or stay where you are, and go with God at the same time.  That is true throughout Scripture."
May I be an obedient child of God.

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