Asleep in the Storm: My Miraculous but Humorous Story of Flying Across the Atlantic
And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full. And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish? And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith? And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:37-41, KJV).
I have a story to tell. And among family and friends it’s become one of their absolute favorites. I hope you enjoy it, too. This one is rather humorous, but more than that — it’s miraculous.
My Ireland Excursion
It’s no secret that I’m Irish (among many other things). I’ve often said that I’ve got a lot of Irish — and plenty of German to kick it into gear. All my life I’d wanted to go to Ireland, and truth be told, I’ve always related to my Irish ancestry much more than any other.
When my opportunity to study abroad in Ireland presented itself, I was elated. But the odds were against me. In a class of eighty with a flood of applicants, only two people would be chosen. I submitted my application and completed the interview process. The semester prior to my leave I made preparations to go. The new mantra in my family became “Ireland or bust”. I had faith, being confident that I would go. I sensed it was God’s will for me and prepared accordingly. To my delight I was one of the two people chosen. How appropriate that both our names were Erin, which mean “Ireland” (hence the Gaelic “Eire”).
I studied in Belfast at Queen’s University for a semester, and it was one of the most cherished experiences of my entire life. While there I traveled the island extensively; making trips that included Scotland and England as well. When it came time to go home, I found it hard to leave. My flight out of Dublin would put me back home just in time for graduation. As rewarding as that should be, it was hardly a motivation to return.
I’ve never enjoyed flying. For anyone who has flown, which is the majority of the population (save a few), I shouldn’t need to explain why. Right?
After boarding the plane I did what anyone who didn’t want to go home would do — I slept. On that morning flight out we were off to a decent start. The university had set me up on Continental Airlines. With that said, it’s no secret how miserable the airlines are in America. JFK could not come quickly enough, and to say that I was uncomfortable was an understatement. For the next seven hours I went into “survival mode” and was very pleased to find myself sandwiched between an American lawyer on my right and a gentleman from New Zealand on my left. Both were fine individuals who made for very pleasant companions on such a long trip. And they didn’t mind at all that I was nodding off.
The lawyer to my right, whom I will call “Deborah” had established herself in Dublin successfully after marrying a handsome Irishman. And although she was American, she had now lived in Ireland long enough to sport a lovely brogue. She was flying out for her sister’s wedding, and was dressed to kill in a wine-colored suit with a leather briefcase on her lap. She was professionalism at its finest. Very well-bred and obviously successful. We chatted before take-off and made our acquaintance. Never did I imagine I would come to know this woman so well. Nor did I anticipate how that would transpire within the next few short hours.
The jolting ride did nothing to put the passengers at ease. The moment the plane began to roll onto the runway, the cabin creaked and croaked as if it were going to fall apart. Every possible noisome malady that could come from a piece of machinery worthy of retirement invoked itself upon us. I closed my eyes.
After we were in the air I fell asleep readily. And I knew I would need it, as the day would be long after arriving in America with a six-hour jet lag…
The next thing I knew, the plane tilted, and almost immediately thereafter I had awoken to the pilot’s announcement:
Ladies and gentleman we have lost pressure. Please fasten your seat belts.”
I had no idea what that meant. Pressure? The only pressure I knew about was cabin pressure. But now we were flying lopsided. The chatter in the cabin definitely up-ticked. And every stewardess was now manning the aisles checking to make sure that each passenger was compliant.
This did not help settle things. It made them worse.
We were now approximately three hours into the flight and nearly half-way across the Atlantic. People began to lose their inhibitions. Why are we flying sideways? People were crying and turning on their phones. Well that went over like a lead balloon, because we were told to shut them off. Tension mounted. But oxygen masks had not fallen from the ceiling, so I guessed things must have been under control. I processed all of this from behind the veil of my eyelids.
I turned to Deborah and cracked an eye. I looked for any sign of stress in her countenance. She was definitely tense. I was tired. I wanted to go back to sleep. So I did.
The next thing I know the pilot made another announcement:
Ladies and gentleman, we are returning to Dublin, and should be arriving within 3 hours.”
Sweet. I was so ready to go back to Dublin and disembark this nightmare. But until then, can someone please let me sleep?
People began talking. Full on. It was loud and obnoxious. We were had been flying over the Atlantic for several hours and had no short trip back to shore. We departed at 9 a.m. and it was noon. But I had perfect peace. Lopsided plane? I was really rather oblivious to this problem. As long as we were headed to Dublin — that was all I cared about. Being so groggy from sleep, I had mentally checked out. And with my eyes being closed, I had no real sense of anything being so lopsided.
So, I went back to sleep.
Much of the trip at this point, I don’t remember. I was perfectly at peace, having drifted into a deep sleep aboard a plane that had lost an engine over the Atlantic.
This is when things became “fun”.
We had now arrived in Ireland and were approaching Dublin, but were promptly notified that we could not land. It was approximately 3 p.m. Needless to say, this was reason enough for me to wake up. I was very motivated to be back in Ireland (Dublin, nonetheless), and I was even more ready to get off the plane.
But that was not going to happen anytime soon. The pilot made another announcement:
Ladies and gentlemen, we have encountered inclement weather. Dublin is experiencing a strong storm system and we will be rounding until cleared for landing.”
We flew in circles for two hours.
Not-kidding-one-bit. What I later found out was something that could not be revealed at the time: we had to burn off fuel. The plane could not land until the fuel load was at a safe level — or the plane would explode. We were obviously not at that level. And this particular plane did not have the capability to dump fuel for emergency landings. Therefore, the only alternative was to burn it off. I’ll credit that disability to a plane worthy of being retired. With that said, we clearly expected a failed landing. The less fuel in the plane: the better our chance of survival — if we survived at all. As it was reported to me, that would have been a miracle. So, in short, we were all preparing to die. But I didn’t know it at the time.
Now, Ireland gets plenty of rain. That’s no secret. Whether or not a storm system was actually an issue — we may well never know. After all, it was springtime, and that’s what we were told. Was it true? Possibly. But I suspect, given the situation, that this statement was made to pacify an already terrified cabin with what would appear to be a worthy reason to remain airborne although we had arrived at our destination.
But I had perfect peace. I was now well-rested. And I was so happy to be back in Ireland. That was my precise frame of mind.
Finally, we were given clearance to land. It was approximately 5 p.m. People grew anxious.
Seeing that I was awake, Deborah turned to me. Now, before I tell you what she said, I need to make sure you understand her countenance. It had entirely changed. She was white as a ghost. And when she looked at me it was with terror, and she looked at me not as a stranger, but as someone in whom she was desperate to confide. She looked at me solemnly, square in the eye and said:
I’ve flown all my life. I don’t want to die this way.”
She was entirely serious. That was clear. And before I tell you what I said in response, I want you to understand my present frame of mind. I knew I wasn’t going to die. God had far too much for me to accomplish. And being that I was very relaxed having just awoke, and that I was so delighted to be back in Ireland, despite the fact that I was aboard a lopsided plane, this is what I said to her — and it came of my mouth before I could think twice:
You’re not going to die! I’m on the plane!”
I was equally as serious. This was not an arrogant statement. It was simply an honest one.
Words cannot describe the look on her face. The best I can say is that she went from sheer terror — to confounded shock. And here is what happened next…
We began to descend. I was now wide awake and very observant. I looked around and felt the tension in the lopsided plane that headed for the runway at the Dublin airport. The stewardesses all had their poker faces on. And the cabin was now so quiet you could hear a pin drop. Little did I know that people were not preparing to land — they were preparing to die. And if any plane was going to fall apart — it was this one.
There was an eerie sense of foreboding that everyone felt. The cloud of doom enveloped everyone — except for me. If I had died that day I wouldn’t have known what hit me. Death was the furthest thing from my mind. I was just happy to be back in Dublin!
I looked out the window and saw the runway approaching, and just before the wheels touched the plane went into a violent thrust upward that shocked all of us. Everyone gasped. We did not land at all. And the pilot made another announcement:
Ladies and gentleman, we will continue rounding.”
We rounded again for another 15 minutes perhaps, until the runway was cleared again. This attempt to land was made three times unsuccessfully. Each time, the plane descended, and we all braced ourselves to touch down only to find that we would be violently thrust back up into the air — becoming fully airborne.
Another hour passed. This up and down momentum was very unpleasant, and it solicited an even greater uncertainty and fear among the passengers. My ears were killing me. People lost their inhibitions and began to cry. Some were even sobbing. I listened to whimpers, prayers, and whispering behind me. Every stewardess was poker-faced and buckled. Some had their heads bowed. The tension present was absolutely unbelievable. Would we land safely? None of us knew. And Deborah sat beside me, stiff as a board with her eyes closed. She was stricken, and I knew she was preparing to die. In her mind, these would be her last moments. These were her last rights, served between her and God, silently and irrevocably alone.
I was now fully awake.
I cannot adequately convey the emotional temperature at that moment within the cabin of that aircraft. Nor can I adequately describe the faces I witnessed surrounding me. I came to realize the severity of the situation; how critical it had become, and although I did not understand the logistics of all that was happening, a solemn moment was experienced between all of us aboard. I knew that I belonged to God. I knew what He had shown and revealed to me for my personal life. That did not include death by a failed landing in Dublin aboard an aircraft that was dilapidated. I held to that truth, and had faith that we would land safely. I reasoned that if God was going to fulfill His call on my life, then we would. That meant He would save me. And if He saved me, He would save everyone.
All of us were buckled. Finally, we began another descent…
The Final Descent
It was a hallowed yet morose moment. All of us felt it. The cabin again grew silent; so quiet that you would not have known any person was even present on the plane.
We all felt it: that heaviness that comes when a plane descends. The wing-flaps and tires engaging, the engines screaming, the air rushing past, the intensity of slowing and lowering so quickly.
I looked out the window and saw a runway lined with dozens of firetrucks and EMS personnel for what appeared to be miles. As we cruised down the runway, one after another passed by with hoses ready and lights flashing. Clearly, they were ready for a failed landing. That runway was manned with what appeared to be hundreds of people, all of them ready to attend us.
Before we touched down, the right wingtip where I was sitting nearly grazed the pavement and we faltered. Finally the tires touched and that’s when we steadied. The brakes were now fully engaged and we all sighed with relief. Immediately, there was an eruption of cheering, clapping, “Hallelujahs”, and raucous praise. Everyone was alive and well.
The next announcement made was to await permission to disembark. That would be another thirty minutes. Once the aircraft was checked and cleared for housing at the terminal, we were escorted off the aircraft by attendants with immediacy. One by one, we made our way into the airport, and were told to await our next instructions.
All of us felt a sense of brotherhood, having survived this together. Deborah stuck to me like glue. We stood there waiting for our luggage when a woman suddenly turned to me and said, “You have a peace about you. Where do you get that?” I smiled at her and said, “I’m a Christian.” She said, “I’ve been watching you, and you are unbelievably calm. Didn’t you feel any fear?” I said, “No. I knew I wasn’t going to die.” She chuckled and nodded.
A Weekend in Dublin
Deborah and I became fast friends. That’s when she explained what had really happened. And once I got home and talked with my cousin who is a professional pilot, he explained the precise details surrounding our event, which made it even more unbelievable.
Our landing was miraculous. And he said, “You had an excellent pilot. If it were anyone else, you would have died.” I don’t know who that gentleman was flying that plane, but I was very grateful for his experience and skill. Obviously, he was no novice.
We were shuttled to the Ramada Inn and where we ate a lavish dinner prepared for us. It was Friday. Deborah said, “Why don’t we go out? I want to show you some Irish hospitality.”
Show me Irish hospitality, she certainly did. It lasted all weekend at the expense of Continental Airlines. Strangely enough, they did not immediately reroute us on any outbound flights. They kept us all at the Ramada until Sunday and fed us like kings. Needless to say, it was one of the best weekends of my life. I saw some of the most spectacular places Dublin has to offer. Deborah and I enjoyed a fantastic weekend together. She missed her sister’s wedding. I merely missed another day in class before finals. But it was all good. We were alive. And we had FUN. This was our celebration of life — and Ireland offered it well.
When it came time to fly out, Continental Airlines had the audacity to try to put us all back on that stupid plane — to which I and many others absolutely refused. I demanded a flight out on Aer Lingus, which I was reluctantly granted. For the first time in my life, I experienced flying as it should be. It was an economy seat, which could have served for first class in my opinion. And I was treated like royalty by very attentive stewardesses. Coming home was not something I slept through. Instead, I enjoyed the entire trip.
Asleep in the Storm
The moral of the story is this:
When you know God, and your life truly belongs to Him, you can sleep through the storm. Even when it’s raging, you can rest in His peace, knowing that regardless of what happens, you belong to Him. If you’ve ever read the story of Jesus sleeping on the boat while the disciples were screaming, “We perish!” and wondered how He could pull that off, now you know.
I didn’t understand the intimacies of that story for a long time. But I can tell you, I do now.
Cheers & Shalom,