It was a cold February morning as pilots Thomas Prinster and Lyle Hogg greeted passengers who were boarding Pilgrim Airlines Flight 458. What began as an ordinary flight from New London to Boston would soon prove to be anything but ordinary. At 3:10 pm, Flight 458 was off and climbing toward cruising altitude. Shortly into the flight, ice began to accumulate in the windshield. Hogg reached for the toggle switch that activated the de-icing pump. A plastic hose ran from the electric pump which fed two spray nozzles in front of the windshield. When Hogg pressed the de-ice toggle, very little fluid appeared on the windshield. He then held the switch down again but only a small amount of fluid was appearing. What he didn’t know was the plastic line from the pump had cracked and the de-icing fluid made of pure isopropyl alcohol was being sprayed onto the engine. Moments later the cockpit began to fill with smoke. Capt. Thomas Prinster radioed for help: “Quonset, this is Pilgrim 458, we need to make an emergency landing. There is a fire on board.”
The aircraft was 12 miles away from the nearest airport. As they diverted to this new destination, flames began licking up through the floor of the cockpit. But the pilots remained in their seats as they flew the burning aircraft. Their uniforms, being part synthetic, began to melt into their bodies as the flames charred their legs, arms, and torsos. Prinster and Hogg were being roasted in their seats. But there was something engrained inside of them that went beyond physical pain and suffering. The lives of their passengers were their highest priority. They knew that as the fire spread, it was getting closer and closer to the 200 gallons of fuel beneath the passengers. They both agreed that they would never make it to the airport without the plane exploding into a ball of fire. Looking out the side windows, they saw a large frozen lake and the decision was made to land.
Upon impact, the plane’s landing gear was severed and the right wing was torn away as the plane skidded across the ice. As the plane stopped and passengers began to exit, they heard a woman called out, “Somebody please help me. I’m blind.” Shortly after the woman was dragged off the plane, the fire reached the fuel tanks and the aircraft exploded into a ball of fire. Lyle Hogg staggered across the ice and saw an awful figure moving toward him. It was Capt. Prinster. “Are you okay?” the pilots asked each other. Both men were burned extensively with chunks of flesh missing from their arms and legs. They were later awarded the prestigious Heroism Award from the international Flight Safety Foundation.
Ever since I read that story, it has had a profound impact on me. These men resisted the most basic human reaction to escape pain and they chose instead to save those who had placed their lives into their hands. As Christians, we have a responsibility to those around us to hold up under heat. The pilots accepted their painful circumstance because they were the only ones qualified to handle the situation. If the trial gets hot, does it suddenly become all about our personal comfort and desires? How much fire can you endure before it’s all about you?
If we are to keep flying in spite of the fire, we must believe that the pain is worth it.
Romans 8:18 “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”
The next thing we must believe is that we are not isolated in our trial. Please believe me when I tell you that saints of God everywhere are still flying in spite of the fire. Apostle Peter who experienced persecution like we’ll never know had this to say:
1 Peter 4:12 “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you:”
Finally, we must believe that God is teaching us in the fire. During our trials, it’s easy to look around us at everything that is up in flames. But I would encourage you to examine things that God is trying change on the inside of you. Difficult times will not be wasted time if we learn the lessons that God is trying to teach us. God never promised us a smooth flight or even a smooth landing but he did promise us a safe landing.
Be encouraged child of God and keep flying, even if you have to fly on fire!