Early on the morning of February 17, 1994, James Rich crawled behind the controls of his plane at an airport near Louisville, Ky. The plan was to make a 30-minute flight to Crossville, Tenn., where a friend of his was the airport manager. He would arrive just about the time his friend was showing up for work and show off the 1972 Piper Seneca he had just finished restoring.
The 40-year-old pilot had not slept much the night before. He had been out late with some friends. So he was still tired when he cleared the runway and pointed his plane south for the quick trip. Climbing to 3,500 feet and putting the Seneca on automatic pilot, he dozed off.
Rich must have slept for about three hours. The next thing he knew, he was trying to get his head clear while looking through broken clouds onto what he took to be a lake. A closer look revealed that the “lake” extended to the horizon in all directions. Then a glance at the gas gauge told him he was out of fuel.
Knowing that he was in trouble, he radioed an SOS. Only then did he discover his true location – 188 miles west of Clearwater and 190 miles south of Panama City. He was over the Gulf of Mexico and had only a few minutes of gasoline left.
Eighty-five miles short of land, the last drop of fuel was gone. His uninsured $70,000 plane hit the Gulf, sank in about 45 seconds, and pulled Rich down with its undertow. Two cushions pulled from the plane popped him back to the surface. They would have to keep him afloat until help came, for Rich couldn’t swim.
Within 15 minutes, a helicopter was there to drop a rescue basket. Rich scrambled in and was hoisted to safety – still clinging to his seat cushions.
Mr. Rich’s humorous-though-harrowing experience reminds all of us to stay alert about the direction of our lives. It is easy to get up, work, eat, and sleep day after day with our lives on automatic pilot. Thus many a life, marriage, or business winds up far off course and confused. Sometimes there is a devastating crash – with no last-minute rescue from death.
Be sure the things you do this week are consistent with your life goals and priorities. Getting there fast will be of little comfort if your landing site is off.
Rubel Shelly The FAX of Life