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Three Seconds to Impact

“Vertigo” – a pilot’s worst nightmare! I was out of control in zero visibility and rapidly losing altitude. Only 300 feet above the ground, I was too low to bail out! Not exactly the kind of day I had expected as I left for work that Friday, January 22, 1971.

Fresh out of college, I had elected to join the U.S. Navy after graduating from Trenton State College in my home state of New Jersey. I had originally planned to teach High School Industrial Arts after graduation, but the lure of becoming a Navy pilot led me to Pensacola.

In the fall of 1965, while in flight school at Pensacola, I met the love of my life. Janice and I married while I took advanced flight training in Corpus Christi, Texas. After receiving my “Wings of Gold” in 1967, I gained valuable experience flying patrol planes at various bases, and eventually became a flight instructor teaching formation flying in T-28 aircraft at Whiting Field.

I had heard of vertigo, had even studied about what to do in case you get it, but had never experienced it. Vertigo is a temporary spatial disorientation that causes a person to completely lose his sense of direction. The senses of someone with vertigo give wrong information to his brain so that he cannot distinguish up from down and becomes utterly confused. I had always been critical of pilots who had crashed because of vertigo, and after hearing of one such incident I said to Janice, “That pilot must have been an idiot. All he had to do was look at and believe his instruments.” I would later regret that callous statement. I was about to learn a very big lesson.

During training flights, as I watched and graded my student pilots, I sometimes flew under them, sometimes above them, and sometimes dropped back to observe from a distance. This time, I was about a thousand yards directly behind them at the same altitude and had just added power to catch up when they suddenly disappeared into a cloud bank. Almost immediately I entered the same cloud bank. With a 45-knot closure rate, I had a major problem. We were all flying blind, and a collision was only seconds away! I closed my throttle, activated my speed brake, and banked sharply to the left. At the same time, I ordered my students to bank to the right: “Do it NOW!” Then the unthinkable happened. Instantly I had VERTIGO! What a horrendous new experience for me, flying in zero visibility, power off, speed brake down, in a steep turn, and now completely out of balance. With my flight and air speed dropping rapidly, I lost control of my airplane. My body felt strange; I had no idea whether I was upside down, right side up, or sideways. I was going to crash. Death was staring me in the face.

Death! As a child, I had come to realize that sooner or later everyone dies. It was clearly stated in the Bible that “it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). I had been taught that in order to gain eternal life, I only needed to reach out and accept God’s free gift of salvation, which was through Jesus Christ His Son. As a nine-year-old boy, I invited Jesus Christ to be my personal Savior, and I knew without a doubt that when I died and left this world I would spend eternity with God. From that moment I had complete peace about my eternal destiny.

Now with death staring me in the face, and thoughts of my wife and young son racing through my mind, I cried out, “God help me!” And He did. I did not know my attitude—the position of my aircraft—or which way was up, but suddenly, like a lightning flash during a thunderstorm at night, from the left side of the cockpit I caught a brief glimpse of the ground. Instantly my vertigo disappeared. I rolled to my right, held the wings level, and raised my aircraft's nose to a slight climb, a scant 300 feet from burying that same nose into the ground. Carefully, I made my way up through the clouds. I really didn’t care where I was or which direction I was heading. All I knew was that I was alive! I cannot describe my joy as I broke out above the clouds at 5,000 feet and once again saw beautiful blue sky and sunshine. “Thank you Lord,” I said over and over. Full of gratitude, I leveled off and made my way back down through the clouds to rejoin Hank and Luigi. My problems were not over; the weather was still bad, all of the airfields in the area were now closed, and we were running dangerously low on fuel. But God was still with me. And with His help, I managed to get all of us safely to the ground.

I arrived home that evening haggard and pale. Janice immediately noticed my expression and asked what was wrong. “Honey,” I replied, “I came within three seconds of dying. I almost crashed this morning, but God spared my life.”

Are You Ready?

One day it won’t matter how big our houses were, how many cars we had in our driveway, or how much money we accumulated. There are only two things that last eternally: God’s Word and the souls of men. Therefore, I have vowed to make the remainder of my life count for the Lord. I am determined to serve Him until He calls me home. On that airplane, that day in 1971, I was “ready” to meet Him face to face—and I still am. One day I will meet Him. One day you will too.

THE BIG QUESTION: Are you ready NOW? Will you be ready when your time comes? The Bible says, “All have sinned.” It also says that the penalty for sin is death. But there is good news! Jesus Christ came to earth and suffered death on the cross to pay this penalty for us. All we must do is confess that we are sinners and ask Him to save us. When we do, He forgives us and reckons our sin debt paid in full. It is through God’s grace that we are saved and have eternal life.

Please read the following Bible verses in the order I have listed them. It is God’s simple plan of salvation as spelled out in the New Testament in the book of Romans.

All have sinned. Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”

The penalty is death. Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Christ died for our sins. Romans 5:8: “But God commendeth His love toward us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

Confess and believe. Romans 10:9-10: “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”

Receive assurance. Romans 10:13: “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Will you accept Jesus Christ as your Savior today?

Please call me if you want to share the good news that you have accepted Christ. If you have any questions, or if you would like to meet with me, my toll-free number is 1-800-874-0101.


The above article was written by Jim Porter. He is the founder of the weekly evangelistic Men's Barn Meeting in Pensacola, Florida. To offer your feedback on this article, comment below or email us at

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