“Flying Coffin”

The time was October 1924. The place was Kelly Field near San Antonio, Texas. I was an Army Air Corps flying cadet receiving advanced flying instructions. The members of my class were flying DeHavilands—nicknamed “flying coffins” because of their tendency to catch fire in a crash landing even on a smooth field.

Each plane had a 400-horsepower, V-12 engine. Immediately behind the engine and firewall was the gas tank, which held approximately one hundred gallons, the top of which formed the top of the fuselage. Behind the gas tank were the instrument panel and the pilot’s seat. In a crash landing, the gas tank would rupture and flood the hot engine with gasoline. Many pilots had lost their lives—not from the crash, but from the fire that followed.

I had been practicing maneuvers about ten miles southwest of Kelly Field when the cloud cover began to drop. Here, the ground elevation was about two hundred feet lower than at the field. I started back, hoping to arrive before the cloud cover dropped to zero. The area was covered with mesquite trees, with only small areas cleared for pastures and farms.

I was about halfway home when I saw that, because of the rising terrain, the clouds and the ground were only two hundred feet apart. A little farther ahead, they merged. I realized that I had to land at once, before I ran into a cloud-ground wedge!

I tried to find a cleared area in which to land safely. I eventually located a long enough field, but in circling to approach it the long way, the visibility was so poor that I could not find the landing direction. I tried this several times, and soon my visibility was only about two hundred yards ahead. In order not to hit the mesquite trees, I would have to make skidding turns by holding the wings level and using only the rudder. If I tried to bank the plane, the lower wing would hit the mesquite and my head would be in the clouds. To crash in this “flying coffin” would mean certain death by fire, even if I survived the impact. I knew that nothing but God’s intervention could save me.

I prayed, “God, please do not desert me now!” Which way should I turn? The trees ahead were in the clouds—closing my escape. I had only seconds to decide which way to go—to the right or to the left? Which way is downhill? I was about to panic.

Then a heavenly voice, louder than the roar of the engine, filled my head and calmed my fears. “Turn left—left turn—flat turn to the left,” it said. “Ravine ahead! Downhill! Clearing for landing, one mile—left turn.”

I made a skidding left turn, and as I completed it, the ground descended from the clouds until I could see a gap between two large trees—not much farther apart than the wing-span of the airplane. The tops of these tall trees were just a little below the bottom of the clouds; just beyond was a small flat area cleared sufficiently to permit the plane’s wheels to roll once they were on the ground.

There was a fence between the trees, and the lower branches were high enough that I could just get under them and over the fence. By just missing the fence and touching the lower branches of each tree, I would be able to get the wheels on the ground.

The field beyond was a pasture. I touched ground as slowly as possible and began to roll. Until I crossed the fence, all below was unbroken mesquite. I was traveling west. The tree on my right stood where the low part of the ravine turned slightly to the right, and the field I was approaching bordered the south side of the ravine. With the wheels and tail-skid on the ground, I waited for the plane to stop rolling. It went slightly uphill, parallel to the ravine. It stopped, and I looked ahead to discover that I was only a plane length from the fence at the west end of the field! I had landed safely.

Since there was no way I could restart the engine if I shut it off, I left the engine idling for two hours while I waited for the clouds to lift. Finally, the clouds lifted to about four hundred feet, and I knew that I could make it back to the field if I could lift off and clear the fence between the trees. A farmer from a nearby farmhouse helped me lift the tail and head the plane in the opposite direction so I could take off.

My heart rejoiced. I knew I had received help from the Lord, not only in finding the landing area, but also in the approach and the actual landing. I felt the Lord’s influence guiding me in the right direction. I also knew that I could receive the same help on my takeoff. I headed directly for the space between the trees. I missed the fence, and the wings brushed off only a few leaves of the trees on both sides of the plane.

With keen awareness and gratitude for the Lord’s timely response in saving my life, I headed home.

Elmer Beckstrand teaches Gospel Doctrine in the Long Beach Fifth Ward, Long Beach California East Stake.

After Four Hundred Names …

A few weeks before I turned eight years old, my father was killed in a trucking accident. A month later, we moved to a new home in St. George, Utah, across the street from the large vacant field just east of the beautiful white temple.

Mother was soon called to be the stake genealogy secretary. Whenever a group assigned could not make it, a member of the temple presidency would call mother to ask if her sons could come to the temple to do baptisms for the dead. Mother never turned the Lord down. My two older brothers and I often went to the temple to do baptisms.

One summer’s day, I had cut my hand severely on an empty can. I begged Mother not to take me for stitches, so she cleaned the wound, applied a “butterfly” bandage, covered that with a band-aid, and then wrapped my hand in gauze.

No sooner had she finished than the telephone rang. It was the brethren from the temple, wanting us boys to come over to do baptisms. Because my two older brothers had been very busy lately, I had been going to the temple on a regular basis. I had by now compiled a lengthy list of baptisms for the dead that ran into thousands. Once again, my older brothers were not around, so I hurriedly bathed, dressed, and ran over to the temple.

Several hours and four hundred names later, Brother Edwards and I stopped for the night. I remember him well, his right arm to the square revealing a hand missing most of the fingers because of an accident he had had in his youth. After every baptism, he would carefully help me up into the stainless steel chair, where I was confirmed. After every twenty or thirty baptisms, Brother Edwards would look down at me and say, “Brother Fish, can you do some more?” I would answer yes, and away we would go.

As I drifted through the back door, exhausted, Mother spotted the dripping gauze on my hand and helped me into the bathroom to re-dress the wound. So tired and hungry that I just wanted to eat and sleep, I wasn’t paying attention to my hand. I let her unwrap the bandage.

The gauze came off first, then the band-aid, and finally the butterfly bandage. My mother looked shocked. I looked down. Not a trace of a cut remained—no scar, no redness, nothing!

I remember my mother quietly hugging me. As we cried together, sharing that moment, the Spirit bore witness to me that I had been healed because of my service in the temple of the Lord.

Jon B. Fish serves as a counselor in the Citrus Heights California Stake presidency.

That Chicken Job

Newly married, my husband and I arrived at college for the fall semester with only our summer earnings to sustain us. We immediately began looking for jobs. My husband got work on campus; I headed for the community job market. On a routine visit to the employment office, I perused the contents of the many three-by-five-inch cards pinned to the bulletin board. A particular notice caught my attention. It advertised for workers at a poultry processing plant and promised steady hours five days a week. I must admit, steady hours five days a week was the main attraction, but the plant was several miles out of town. Surely, I thought, I could find something else—but my attention kept returning to that one card. A quiet prodding within me gently insisted, “Take it.”

“I’ll check it out,” I decided, feeling certain that I was mistaken. At the poultry plant, however, eyeing the bibbed rubber apron and the employment contract, I still felt the prompting—stronger than ever. I took the job and quickly settled into the routine of removing processed chickens from one assembly line and tossing them onto a table, hence to be placed on another assembly line for more processing.

Many different types of people worked at the poultry plant, providing me with a rather diversified view of humanity. I thought perhaps this—and what I could learn from it—was the reason I had been prompted to take the job.

But alas, steady hours five days a week did not materialize, and within two weeks I was again looking for a job, chagrined at my initial decision. “So much for my ‘inspiration,’” I thought.

I was relieved to get another job soon after. I was hired by a travel agency, and I loved the job instantly. My employers were even so magnanimous as to lend us some furniture they had in storage for some apartments they owned.

One Saturday, my boss dropped by in his pickup truck, and we went with him to select some much-needed furnishings from his supply. On the return trip, my husband sat in back with the furniture, and I sat in the cab with my employer. Somehow the conversation turned to the reasons I had been chosen over the other job applicants.

“You know why we hired you, don’t you?” he queried.

Modesty forbade my listing the obvious reasons: I was fluent in two foreign languages, had toured Europe after my mission, and had worked for the travel bureau on campus the year before.

“No, why?” I asked. I was not at all prepared for his response.

“It was because you were working out at that chicken place. We knew you were serious about work.”

Though my ego took a minor beating, the quiet calm of the Spirit eventually took over. So that was the reason I had felt moved to take that chicken job! And because I had followed the prompting, a job that met our circumstances better, and which I personally found more to my liking, had presented itself.

This experience was a clear illustration to me that the influence of the Spirit in our individual lives is custom-made—and that God truly does “move in mysterious ways”!

[illustrations] Illustrated by David Linn

Linda R. Hyde is a counselor in the Primary presidency of the Memphis (Tennessee) First Ward.