Magazine Article

Flying Witnesses

How one family touched the hearts of pilots and crew.

Roger Coon with Patti Guthrie
Flying Witnesses

On July 28, 2019, a trauma call came in to the emergency room where Dr. TJ Knutson was working. It was the call no ER physician ever wants to get. An ambulance and helicopter were en route with the victims of an auto accident involving his family. One child was dead. Another was seriously injured. The driver—his wife, Mary Ann—was paralyzed and struggling to breathe. 

TJ shared his family ’s gripping story in Orlando, Florida, at the ASi international convention on Sabbath, August 6. At the conclusion, Mary Ann and their children Bryson, Whitney, and Trinity joined him onstage to share how God brings sweetness out of bitterness. 

Behind the scenes that weekend, God’s leading was evident in the provision of a private plane, pilots, and ground crew whose mission was to transport the family safely from their home in California to Florida and back. “The pilots,” TJ says, are “now a part of our family.” Roger Coon explains how that came to be.

A Divine Schedule

It is amazing to watch the Lord work through the lives of those faithful to Him. I witnessed this firsthand during a recent flight. I’m the chief pilot for a private aircraft management company in Washington State. One of our clients is a Seventh-day Adventist family. They graciously donated their plane to fly the Knutson family (see introduction) from Redding , California, to Kissimmee, Florida, to attend the Adventist-laymen Services and Industries (ASi) international convention, August 3-6, 2022. 

I usually schedule the flight crew and had assigned the Knutsons’ flight to another team employed with us. God had other plans, however. The week before the flight, God completely rearranged our internal schedule, and I needed that crew on a different aircraft for other customers. I took the flight instead, and my boss suggested I take one of our newest pilots along. 

Normally the aircraft requires only one pilot, but because of the family’s special needs, we needed additional coordination, including finding a forklift to load and unload a 450-pound wheelchair. Mary Ann is a quadriplegic. The General Aviation companies in both Redding and Kissimmee were up for the challenge. With all preliminary planning complete, we began the trip of a lifetime. 

The forklift was ready to go in Redding. We fueled for the first leg of our flight and prepped the plane for loading Mary Ann and her chair. TJ and their kids helped load the gear, and the forklift crew gently raised her up to the aircraft door so she could drive herself into position in the back. The staff at the Redding Jet Center were moved by Mary Ann’s positive attitude and the kids’ excitement for the long flight ahead. 

Witnessing at 27,000 Feet

During the next few hours my copilot, Derrill, really connected with the family—a divine appointment I believe will have eternal implications. He spent a fair amount of time visiting with TJ and Mary Ann during both the flight to Florida and the flight home. 

Derrill is new to our company. He is a former Navy SEAL with a heart of loyalty and compassion for others. He really made it his “mission” to care for the family and see that everything went smoothly on our trip. During his term of service he was severely injured when a grenade went off in his hand. This resulted in years of painful surgeries, and he could empathize with much of Mary Ann’s story. 

The Knutson family is really very special. I’ve been a Seventh-day Adventist all my life, and to encounter the kind of faith they have has recalibrated my own. It was incredible to see their joy in God despite their tragedy and their infectious love for Jesus as they witnessed to Derrill at 27,000 feet. 

I saw the Holy Spirit working on his heart as he listened. After talking with TJ and Mary Ann, he would come back to the cockpit, asking questions about what they shared with him. At one point I had my phone out with my Bible app open, showing him in the Bible what they were sharing. Giving a Bible study over Colorado and Kansas while cruising along is, without a doubt, very rare! What an opportunity to be a part of God’s hand. Upon landing in Kissimmee, we unloaded the family again with a forklift, and TJ gave Derrill a DVD on biblical themes. 

Derrill and I visited the ASi venue on Thursday and spent several hours getting better acquainted with this precious family. We came back on Sabbath for the service to listen to the Knutsons’ testimony. Both of us were brought to tears by their story. Derrill admitted to me that he hadn’t cried in years. 

The flight home was just as memorable as the flight out. Again, Derrill spent a lot of time visiting with TJ and Mary Ann, not just listening, but sharing his life and beliefs with them. On the way into Redding, we circled the Knutson family farm. The kids squealed with delight at seeing their home from the air. After unloading them and before saying our goodbyes, we knelt around Mary Ann right on the ramp and prayed. Tears fell as TJ, Mary Ann, and I prayed and thanked God for His loving hand in this trip, for their family, for Derrill, and for friendships forged. 

I can’t say enough how grateful I am that God allowed me to be a part of this experience. I hope that the Knutson family’s testimony is seen by millions, and that it brings hope to those who feel hopeless. I pray that those who are going through their own crucible right now can find the peace and joy in Jesus. I want that kind of faith in Jesus regardless of my circumstances in life, and my prayer is that God moves those who hear this into a deeper walk with Him, as it did for me! 

Note: TJ Knutson’s testimony is archived at

Roger Coon with Patti Guthrie

Roger Coon serves as chief pilot for an aircraft management company in Washington State. Patti Guthrie serves on the ASi program planning team.