Posted by: Donna Douglass | Friday June 4, 2010

God’s finger

‘“Continue,” the co-pilot said, verbalizing the point beyond which they intended to continue the take-off from the steeply sloping strip that ended in tropical mountain jungle. A moment later, the aircraft pulled hard to the right as the engine on that side failed. Jamming both throttles forward, Tim let the nose drop the tiniest bit to gain as much airspeed as he could before pulling the heavily loaded airplane into the clear blue sky just above towering trees. He willed the plane to climb as the co-pilot worked through the check list in effort to restart the failed engine to no avail.

In dead calm air, the two pilots and their two passengers rose just above the highest altitude the plane should have been able to reach. Several other airstrips drifted beneath them, but all were too short to land on without the help of reverse-thrust, which was prohibited with only one engine. Radio operators peppered him with questions, without sufficient pause for him to gather essential information, so he turned the radio off.

Leveling at 6200 feet, still pushing the good throttle forward, as if the pressure could squeeze out just a little better performance, Tim headed for a 6000 foot ridge. On the far side was the main base for a different mission aviation organization. They agreed it was the only option they had left. But as they approached the ridge, the lush green of the jungle gave way to ominous white: the entire valley was filled with thick, low clouds. There was no way in.

Tim and his co-pilot looked at each other. “That’s our only option,” Tim said. The co-pilot agreed. “But we can’t go in there.” Again, he agreed. The remaining engine was beginning to overheat.

Nearly an hour of cruising at 6200 feet had passed as they cruised through perfectly still air. Suddenly, the vertical speed indicated a climb. One hundred feet per minute up. Then two hundred. Then three. Three hundred vertical feet per minute. There it stopped. The altimeter climbed. 6500 feet. Not a single bump of turbulence. 7000 feet. Those who have ever flown a small plane in the mountains know that when air being pushed up over rising terrain lifts a plane up, there is always turbulence. 7500. As a plane burns fuel, it gets lighter and performance improves, but never this much, or this suddenly. 8000 feet. Still steady and perfectly smooth at three hundred feet per minute. And still any explanation that fit into the laws of physics eluded them. At 8500 feet, they leveled. Approaching cruise speed, Tim pulled the engine back, allowing it to cool.

Studying the maps, he guided the plane toward home base. They were now just high enough to clear the pass.

After an uneventful landing, Tim did some research: the villagers at the departure airfield heard the engine fail and began to pray. Residents near another strip saw them fly over with one engine stopped and they prayed. When the home base heard them on the radio, office workers, hangar help, pilots and maintenance workers all stopped to pray. God responded by lifting the plane safely out of the valley. Even with modern technology, excellent maintenance and long, intense hours of training, there are times when it all comes down to the simple fact that God answers prayer.

(This is a true story that happened to a friend in Papua, New Guinea. To find out more about missionary aviation, visit Tim’s organization MAF or AIM-AIR, which is who we’ll be flying with.)


  1. I would like to include your article “God’s Finger” on my web site with links to your site and other stories if that is ok with you, thanks.

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