I’m a fan of silence. I leave the radio off and we don’t have TV. Life is far more peaceful that way. But when this bout of silence hit, Sandi and I were balancing in the sky at nearly 12,000 feet and less than 3,000 feet above the jagged Arizona mountains. Our little plane was struggling to climb the last few feet when suddenly silence struck.
Time stopped. The engine coughed to life then died again. My voice sounded surprisingly calm when I told Sandi to just fly and keep our speed at 100 knots while I played with the engine controls. In the midst of my silent prayers I remember hoping that he wouldn’t mind my commanding him to do that. He did an excellent job of flying the airplane despite the surrounding whiteness of bouncy, wintry clouds.
Something in the back of my mind analyzed the situation and words I never understood from a different aircraft’s handbook passed through my mind: “move the throttle and mixture control to find a burnable fuel-air mixture”. Since those were the only two engine controls I had, I gave it a shot. The engine coughed more promisingly, seeming to ask for more fuel. I gave it just a little more. It sputtered and caught, hesitating at first, then with more confidence as I gently moved the controls.
A mass of slush had drifted lazily up the windshield just before the Silence. I think it played a part in my problem solving, but it’s hard to remember things in order when time has stopped. At any rate, we descended and turned north toward where the rocky peaks gave way to high desert hills. As we turned I looked more closely at the wings and realized they were covered with a layer of bumpy ice. It was loosening and flaking off now that we were descending.
Ice is heavy and destroys the lift that makes planes fly. Just before the big Silence, I felt as if we were balanced in the sky: any slower and we’d stop flying and fall out of the sky, but to go faster we’d have to stop climbing and risk hitting a mountain lurking in the whiteness. As I looked back I realized my vague instinct was probably right about the delicate balance we had been in.
Twice in my career I’ve heard pilots describe feeling the hand of God scoop up their descending airplanes and gently send them skyward again. I felt that there in the silent, featureless white. God gave us another chance that day.
We praised Him for it as the ice melted slowly. And when the ground became visible beneath us, we rapidly spiraled down below a towering bank of ominous clouds in order to avoid requiring another miracle.
On the ground in Albuquerque we debriefed ourselves in depth so that we might never find ourselves in such a situation again. But oddly, what we recalled about the Moment of Silence was peace. Not a carefree, happy peace, but rather a deep confidence that this would all work out. Everything would be okay in the end; God was in control. Overpowering debilitating fear was the stillness of His peace.
After that Sunday morning, we flew the rest of the way to the East Coast relatively uneventfully and even enjoyed a great run in Bridgeport, Texas along the way. It seems we’re none the worse for the experience and just a little wiser. God is good.