I Survived Flight 801
I LOOKED out the window as we descended for a landing in Guam. ‘That’s strange,’ I thought. ‘It seems too dark.’ True, it was past midnight, and heavy rain made visibility poor. But where were the island’s familiar lights and the airport’s shining runways? All I could see were dim lights from our jumbo jet’s wings.
One of our flight attendants had made the usual announcements in preparation for landing, and I heard the plane’s landing gear clunk solidly into place. Suddenly, there was a loud noise as our aircraft scraped the ground. The plane jerked uncontrollably, and passengers clutched their armrests and cried out, “What’s going on?”
Moments later, our Boeing 747 slammed into a hillside, three miles [5 km] short of the airport, evidently because of our pilot’s miscalculation. As a result of that airline disaster on August 6, 1997, a total of 228 passengers and crew members died. I was one of only 26 survivors.
Prior to my boarding in Seoul, Korea, an airline representative upgraded my coach seat assignment, giving me the last remaining seat in first class. I was so pleased that I telephoned my wife, Soon Duck, who was to meet me at the airport in Guam. That seat change proved beneficial beyond my wildest dreams.
The Crash and the Scene Afterward
Because of limited visibility, the flight crew may have been unaware of any impending danger. Everything happened so quickly! One moment, I was bracing myself for the worst, and the next thing I knew, I was on the ground outside the plane, still strapped into my seat. I’m not sure whether I had lost consciousness or not.
‘Is this a dream?’ I wondered. When I realized that it wasn’t, my first thoughts were of how my wife would react when she heard about the crash. Later, she told me that she never gave up hope. Even when she overheard someone at the airport say that just seven passengers had survived, she believed I was one of the seven.
Our plane had broken into four sections, which were spread out along rugged jungle terrain. Bodies were scattered everywhere. Portions of the aircraft were on fire, and I heard explosions along with horrible moaning and crying. “Help me! Help me!” voices pleaded. My seat had landed in six-foot [1.8 m]-tall saw grass, and in the eerie light of the fires, I could see a steep hill nearby. It was about 2:00 a.m., and rain continued to fall.
I was so stunned that I didn’t even think I might be injured, until I noticed a young girl with her scalp hanging down the back of her head. I immediately reached for my head and found that I was bleeding from a cut above my left eye. I began checking the rest of my body and discovered many more small cuts. But, thankfully, none seemed serious. There was, however, paralyzing pain in my legs, making it impossible for me to move. Both of them were broken.
Later, when I reached the hospital, doctors would label my injuries as “minor.” And indeed they were, compared with those of other survivors. One man was pulled from the wreckage with his legs missing. Others suffered severe burns, including three who lived through the crash only to die later, after weeks of excruciating pain.
Worried by the Flames
Rather than being preoccupied with my injuries, I was concerned as to whether rescuers would reach me in time. The middle sections of the airplane, where my coach seat would have been, were almost completely demolished. What remained was on fire, and passengers trapped inside experienced an agonizing death. I will never forget their screams for help.
My seat rested near the nose of the plane. I was within an arm’s length of the wreckage. By craning my neck backward, I could see the flames. I feared it was just a matter of time until they reached me, but thankfully they never did.
Minutes ticked by slowly. More than an hour passed. Finally, a few rescuers located the crash site about 3:00 a.m. I could hear them talking at the top of the hill, expressing astonishment over what they saw. One of them called out: “Is anybody there?”
“Here I am,” I hollered back. “Help me!” Other passengers also responded. One rescuer referred to another as “Ted.” So I began shouting, “Hey Ted, I’m here!” and, “Ted, come help us!”
“We’re coming down! Just wait,” was the reply.
Pouring rain, which may have saved many from the flames, hindered the climb down the slippery slope. As a result, another long hour passed before rescuers reached survivors. The time they took to find me seemed like an eternity.
“We’re here,” two rescuers with flashlights said. “Don’t worry.” They were soon joined by two more rescuers, and together they attempted to move me. Two grabbed my arms, and the other two held my legs. It was extremely painful to be carried that way, especially since they kept slipping in the mud. After going a short distance, they put me down. One of them went for a stretcher, and I was moved to where a military helicopter could transport me to an ambulance at the top of the hill.
Seeing My Wife, at Last!
It was not until 5:30 a.m. that I reached the emergency room. Because of the severity of my injuries, doctors would not permit me to make a phone call. So my wife did not find out that I had survived the crash until 10:30 a.m., almost nine hours after the plane went down. She was notified by a friend who had seen my name on a list of survivors.
When my wife was finally permitted to see me, about 4:00 p.m., I did not immediately recognize her. My senses had been dulled by the pain medication. “Thank you for being alive,” were her first words. I do not remember the conversation, but I was later told that I replied: “Do not thank me. Thank Jehovah.”
Keeping Priorities in Order
As I was recovering in the hospital, the pain I felt was familiar to me. In 1987, less than a year after moving from Korea to Guam, I fell from a fourth-floor scaffold in a construction accident and broke both my legs. That proved to be a turning point in my life. My older sister, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, had been urging me to study the Bible. My six-month period of recuperation provided opportunity for me to do this. As a result, that same year I dedicated my life to Jehovah God and symbolized this by water baptism.
Since the plane crash, I have been thinking about a favorite scripture of mine, which says: “Keep on, then, seeking first [God’s] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these other things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33) While recovering from the plane crash, I had opportunity to reevaluate my life.
In a very powerful way, the crash of Flight 801 impressed on me how precious life is. I could so easily have been killed! (Ecclesiastes 9:11) As it was, I needed several operations to repair my body, and I spent more than a month in the hospital recuperating.
Now I want to show our Grand Creator that I truly do appreciate his marvelous gift of life, including his provision for humans to enjoy everlasting life in an earthly paradise. (Psalm 37:9-11, 29; Revelation 21:3, 4) I realize that the best way to show such appreciation is by continuing to put Kingdom interests first in my life.—Contributed.
[Picture Credit Line on page 23]
US Navy/Sipa Press