Feb. 2, 1981, will always stand out as being one of the worst, yet, in retrospect, one of the best days of my life. My husband, Garth, and I were aboard a flight returning from Bogota, Colombia, to Caracas, Venezuela, where our family was living. My husband was employed by the Church in the Andes area office. We were both deep in thought about the interview we had just had in Bogota, where we had been asked to relocate.
We had moved from the United States to Quito, Ecuador, in 1977, where we had lived for a year and a half. Then we were transferred to Lima, Peru, where we had lived for 2 1/2 years. We were presently living in Caracas, and now we were being asked to move to Bogota, where my husband would be manager of the region office, which then included Venezuela and Colombia. The thought of yet another international move seemed more than I could bear. Just thinking about it made tears roll down my cheeks. How could I have the faith to make this move!As our airplane cruised through the air, I thought about our oldest son, Joel, who had just been elected student body president of his high school in Lima. We were all looking so forward to this wonderful opportunity! Our son, Scott, and our daughter, Erin, were very happy in their schools and with their friends. How could we possibly pull them out of their schools and ask them to move again? I felt such a deep feeling of concern and fear in my heart and soul.
By this time we were nearing Caracas and the pilot had just begun his descent. I was thinking about these things, totally oblivious to my surroundings when all of a sudden someone yelled, "Fire!" I looked out the window, and the engine of the right wing of our plane was in flames. The result was total chaos. Someone had pulled the handle of the emergency exit door causing the plane to suddenly decompressurize and the pressure on our ears was incredible.
The panic you feel when you think you are going to crash in a plane is beyond description. I remember grabbing my personal journal with one hand and gripping my husband's hand with the other, closing my eyes and praying mightily. The reaction of the passengers was indescribable. Many of them unbuckled their seat belts and crawled hysterically over the seats and other passengers. The Caracas Airport wasn't far but it seemed an eternity away. We were all so frightened, so afraid we were going to die. I can still remember seeing fire engines and policemen everywhere as we approached the airport.
After an extremely rough and frightening landing, our plane was on the runway. At this point people were crawling all over each other trying to get out of the burning plane. I remember so well the panic I felt, being afraid it would blow up. As we were trying to get out of the plane, people were being trampled underfoot. We wanted so much to help them, but we would have been pushed down by the people behind us.
After finally getting safely off the plane, we returned to our apartment in Caracas, where our three beautiful children were waiting for us. How grateful we were to be home and to be alive. As we knelt that night in prayer, we thanked our Heavenly Father for sparing our lives and pledged ourselves to serve Him in anything He would ask of us.
We did make the move to Bogota, where we lived for a year before being transferred back to the United States.
Feb. 2, 1981, was one of the best days of my life because this experience changed my perspective of so many aspects of my life. Life became far more precious to me than ever before. I had always loved life before the accident but now, 12 years later, I still greet each new day with an ecstatic sense of joy and thankfulness.
The greatest lesson I learned from the accident was that of faith. Now I recognize how powerful faith really is. I quote from my journal of that night: "How very grateful we are to be alive! It was a close call. Garth told me something so special after we were all safe and clear of the aircraft. He told me that when he flies he occasionally feels inclined to dedicate the aircraft into the hands of the Lord – and that he had done it this time. I was so touched, deep inside, and grateful for the priesthood and for the great faith of my husband in that priesthood. I told him I felt he had saved our lives. He said, looking up, `No, it wasn't me.' "
Another great lesson I learned was the power of fear. And now I knew that faith could actually replace this powerful feeling of fear. What a great realization this was for me.
Our family has gone through many trials and tests that have required much faith since those years in South America. We have had to replace our feelings of fear with faith many times. The plane accident was our "Garden of Gethsemane" that taught us those extreme feelings of fear and helped us realize that they can be replaced with a very strong love for our Heavenly Father and faith in His healing power in all things.
We are all given experiences in our lives to equal the needed faith to help us overcome our fears and our trials. All we have to do is ask our Heavenly Father, and He will help us to apply our faith. Let us be like the 7-year-old boy who got a very bad sliver in his hand. His grandfather wanted to take it out immediately but the little boy looked at him and asked, "Grandpa, could we pray first?" That little boy had learned to replace fear with faith, and at a very young and tender age.
I am truly grateful for my trials in life, though at times they seem so difficult. But I realize that without these trials I would not be able to receive the faith I need to replace the fears. And how many times does our Heavenly Father tell us in the scriptures to "fear not." We must have trials in order to be strong enough to obey this great commandment. Then we will be strong enough to replace our fears with our faith.