Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The woman and the watch

Six minutes. Five passengers stuffed into the airplane. Cargo tied down in the back and loaded in the pack screwed onto the bottom of the plane. The pilot’s mind had looked at every angle, every option, and every combination told him he had six minutes.

The other option is to be stuck for the night. With the last rays of daylight, an airplane’s options fade away as the exotic terrain below the airplane changes from a managed concern to a deadly unknown.

Then someone asks the pilot, “What about her?”

She stood quietly outside the plane. She was from the village, and obviously near full term in her pregnancy. She needed to get into town. There was not room for her, and the schedule allowed no flexibility.

“Can she get to town another way?”

“Well, yes. In two days, a truck with gravel comes through. She could sit on top.”

A glance at the airplane ready to go, then he looked back at the woman. He could take her where she needed to go, but it would throw the entire schedule off by half a day. Getting to their destination would not be an option before dark.

A glance at the watch. Six minutes were up. He tried to think of every option, but the picture of her riding on top of the gravel was too grim.

“Alright, change of plans.”

Passengers climbed back out, cargo was rearranged, and they helped the lady onboard. In a matter of minutes she arrived safely at the nearby town. The original passengers had to wait until morning to leave for their intended destination.

Whatever the pilot thought of his decision then, the truth became clearer several months later. He stopped in the same village and a man came and approached him.

“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. You saved my wife’s life!”

“You are welcome. But I just helped her get to a place to have her baby. She was doing fine on her own.”

Somebody pulled the pilot aside and explained what had happened. 30 minutes after arriving in town, the lady went in premature labor. The baby needed to come out, but because of complications, she needed an emergency C section. Fortunately, the only person in that part of Central African Republic who could perform the operation was a pastor who lived in THAT town. He had been trained by a missionary doctor several years early.

He successfully performed the operation that saved the mother’s life and the baby’s.

“I don’t know what that thing is you wear on your wrist,” the husband said. “I know all you pilots who fly these airplanes listen to them. You look at it and say ‘We must go now!’ or ‘We cannot wait for them.’ I do not know why you did not listen to this thing last time, but I am very happy you did not. Thank you, because my wife is alive. Thank you for not listening to that thing.”

The pilot, who was one of my instructors, shared this story with us during my orientation last September. He said “That conversation changed how I viewed my flying forever.”

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