Faithful Living: Develop faith to handle crisis

When Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger saved his crew and their 155 passengers by ditching US Airways flight 1549 into the Hudson River last year, the term “bird strike” and the dangers of birds coming in contact with airplanes suddenly moved into the average American’s awareness.

This week the 12th Annual Meeting of the Joint Bird Strike Committees of the United States and Canada met in Salt Lake City. The problems challenging those who manage airports moved from the theoretical to the personal when keynote speaker Jeff Skiles, co-pilot of that miraculous flight, gave his first-hand account of the experience.

I was privileged to hear him speak and sat in rapt attention as he recounted his dramatic story. Bordering on quiet in his delivery and displaying a gentile sense of humor, Skiles invited us to theoretically sit on the cockpit’s jump seat between he and Sullenberger as he took us through every moment of the fight.

He says that landing the plane was not just a miracle; it took teamwork, training and preparation to save everyone on board. “When you’re placed in such dire circumstances, you’re training takes over,” Sikes says.

There are several aspects of his story that will stay with me.

First, from the moment four geese stopped both of their engines, the flight lasted only 5 ½ minutes. There was absolutely no time to panic, despite their low altitude, the sudden absence of engine power and potentially distracting warnings that continued to audibly blast from the cockpit’s instrument panel. Both men understood their only choice was to follow carefully outlined emergency procedures and trust instincts built upon years of flying. Absent was any distrust of each other or their training.

Next, the two pilots had never worked together and had only met three days before the event. They resembled a well-oiled machine because they had both received the same excellent training and understood that success was built not on team building on a personal level, but by following procedures as aviation professionals.

Third, he believes the experience was much harder on the passengers than it was on the cockpit crew or fight attendants. They were distracted by pressing forward with the business at hand. Their rehearsed and professional responses gifted them with a degree of control. Passengers, on the other hand, were left to text loved ones final good-byes and process the extreme stress of possible death in a situation to which they could make no positive contribution other than to follow directions.

Trauma is a part of living and Jeff Skiles’ story has got me thinking: Many people chose to incorporate faith into their lives, yet a faith that is underdeveloped, undertrained and isolated will not serve anyone in a crisis. If we have no experiences with God, don’t know where to turn in Scripture for comfort, or welcome other believers in our lives to serve as a support system, how will faith impact us when there is crisis?

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