34 years ago during a heavy snowstorm in January of 1982, a large Boeing 737 was preparing for departure from the Washington National Airport. Despite the conditions, the crew did not operate according to operational the de-icing checklists and the build-up of ice on the planes extremities caused disaster.
After leaving the runway, they remained amid the sky for only 30 seconds, before colliding with the 14th Street Bridge and plummeting into the frozen waters of the Potomac River. All but the tail section quickly became submerged, as this tragedy claimed the lives of 78 individuals.
Why do I share this story with you? Of all the amazing things that have taken place in history, and all the stories that could be told of them, why this tragedy? Is it because we all have times in our live when we too skip a step on the checklist of life, when maybe we choose not to do everything that we could have or should have? Or maybe it’s because each of us have had warning lights signal from deep inside us, letting us know that we should stop and turn around, and yet, we ignore and continue? It could be that you are like me, and you’ve have a plan with well intentioned goals. But just as you get off the ground with those desires, something goes wrong, and we pile up just beyond the end of the runway. Those are all good lessons, and messages which could be taken from this story. However, for me this story brings a message of hope, of faith, and of valued perspective.
With the plane in the freezing river, an emergency helicopter crew arrived at the site. They found survivors in the ice-filled water clinging for their lives to the tail section of the plane. Risking their own lives, the helicopter crew worked so close to the water’s surface that the helicopter’s skids went beneath the surface of the water.
As the crew lowered a rope to survivors, Arland Williams caught the line. Instead of wrapping it around himself, he passed it to flight attendant Kelly Duncan. On the return trip to the wreckage, the helicopter lowered two lifelines. Williams again caught one the ropes, and again passed it on. By the time the helicopter crew could returned to rescue what would have been the final survivor, Williams and the plane’s tail section had disappeared beneath the icy surface.
Arland Williams is to me an example of bravery, heroism, and charity. His loving actions to those whom he did not even know, cost him his very life, and yet he willingly gave it. When all that was good and peaceful seemed in those moments, to be so very far away, this man brought light, brought hope, brought love to the very core of the scene.
My friends, this is why I share this story. For it is a parallel of our days and times. There is so very much that is bad and tragic going on around us. We see and hear of things on the news that seem unimaginable It seems that there is much around that is trying to deceive us and destroy our family units. But among all this negativity, and immensely greater than it all; is the good, the love, and the power of our very own selves. With a new year coming over the horizon, may we look for opportunities to help, and to in a sense, pass the rope.