It was a recent Tuesday afternoon when the nightmare came true. The pilot of the Cessna Caravan (a 38-foot, single-engine, 14-passenger aircraft) suddenly slumped over at the controls. Moments later, a passenger clicks on the radio to air traffic control: “I’ve got a serious situation here — my pilot has gone incoherent. I have no idea how to fly the airplane.” No idea! Imagine yourself gripping that microphone.1
“Roger. What’s your position?” the voice of a dispatcher crackles over the speaker.
“I have no idea. I can see the coast of Florida in front of me. And I have no idea.”
“Maintain wings level and just try to follow the coast, either north or southbound. We’re trying to locate you.” How comforting — they’re trying to find him! Air traffic control eventually spots the plane on radar, 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of its destination, Palm Beach International Airport.
The dispatcher, calmly now, step by step, begins to guide the man at the controls of the Cessna. Keep the wings level. Slowly lower your altitude. Can you see the runway ahead? Steady, steady. Let it descend. Keep it level. Keep coming.
Emergency vehicles line the runway as the Cessna Caravan slowly drops out of the sky and bounces onto the concrete of Mother Earth. Can you imagine the relief of that anonymous passenger!
“This is the first time I’ve ever heard of one of these [Cessna Caravans] being landed by somebody that has no aeronautical experience,” aviation expert John Nance said. “The person on the airplane … listened very carefully and obviously followed instructions with great calm. That’s what made the difference.”
What a recipe for life’s pilotless moments! 1. Listen very carefully. 2. Follow the instructions. 3. Maintain “great calm.”
Because it all comes down to trust, does it not? You can’t even see the Controller — but you hear His voice — and you trust His instructions — guiding instructions quietly laid out in a dusty Book few turn to anymore.
But how else are we going to maintain this “great calm” flying through space in what feels like a pilotless world? Ukraine, Russia, Europe, China, America, inflation, Wall Street, the economy, COVID-19 still, the list goes on and on. Who doesn’t at times feel out of control, personally or collectively — flying a pilotless life with no one at the wheel?
But good news. The Voice we hear belongs to the God who sits behind the controls. “Above the distractions of the earth He sits enthroned; all things are open to His divine survey; and from His great and calm eternity He orders that which His providence sees best.”2
There it is again, that “great calm” — “great calm” in the Voice speaking into our headphones — “great calm” in the heart obeying His instructions.
“Roger — what’s your position?” “I have no idea.” But the “blessed assurance” is that He does. And if we will (1) listen very carefully, (2) follow His instructions, and (3) maintain the “great calm” of trust, the nail-scarred Flight Instructor promises to guide us onto His flight path to eternity. “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20).
1. This dialog was reported in Jesse O’Neill, “Passenger with ‘No Idea How to Fly Airplane’ Lands Safely after Pilot Gets Sick,” New York Post, May 10, 2022, nypost.com/2022/05/10/florida-passenger-with-no-idea-how-to-fly-airplane-lands-safely-after-pilot-gets-sick/.
2. Ellen G. White, The Faith I Live By (Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1958), 42.