By Andrew Jamison, MD
Editor’s Note: You saw the pictures and were in awe that cold day in January 2009 when US Airways Flight 1549 made an emergency landing on the Hudson River, and all the passengers and crew survived. What you may not have known is that a CMDA member, Richard (Andrew) Jamison, MD, was on that plane. This is his story.
Flying Standby Toward Charlotte
On January 15, 2009, I was in New York City for a residency interview. I had a ticket on a 9:30 p.m. flight, since there didn’t seem to be a chance of catching the earlier 2:45 flight, but when the interview ended early, I got on standby for Flight 1549.
Like any other plane trip, I wasn’t paying much attention, at the start. I had been reading two books during this trip: The Sovereignty of God, by Arthur W. Pink, and Prince Caspian, by C.S. Lewis. As we sat on the taxi-way waiting for the plane to take off, I kept on reading my books and didn’t even hear the flight attendant explain that in the unlikely event of a water landing, our life vests were under our seats. I still think reading The Sovereignty of God probably prepared me better for what I was about to experience than knowing where to find the life vests.
The takeoff seemed to be going normally, when about a minute into it there was a loud thud, and the plane lurched a little bit. My first thought was that this was just a little turbulence, but just to make sure I glanced at the flight attendant, because that has always been my gauge as to whether or not I should be worried. She was visibly concerned. I was in the very back of the plane, but somebody a little further forward saw the engine spark and start to smoke, so that got my attention and I put the book down. I could smell the smoke coming in, and at the time I thought it was just the right engine, since that was the side of the plane I was sitting on. With my limited knowledge of aircraft, I knew we only needed one engine to fly, which is what I told the lady sitting beside me. I said, “We can get all the way to Charlotte on one engine if we have to.”
Next Stop – Hudson River
Then it was quiet, too quiet, and I realized that both engines were out. In reality, it all happened very fast, but within thirty seconds I knew we were going down. The flight attendant was digging around the seat behind me, looking for a transponder or something, so it was very clear that whatever was happening was not normal.
At about that moment, it hit everybody and stunned us that we were going down. I tried to call my wife, Jennifer, to say goodbye, but my cell phone wouldn’t work. Then I turned to the lady beside me, and maybe from working in a context where you have to always ask permission to pray with somebody, I asked her if it was okay if I said a prayer. And, she looked at me like I was crazy and said, “Of course.”
So the lady and I and the guy who was sitting beside us, who leaned in, bowed our heads. I don’t remember what I said, word for word, but since I was reading The Sovereignty of God, it was something like this, “God, we know that You are sovereign. . . and that You are in control of planes, even planes without engines. We pray that Your will be done. And, I ask for a peace that surpasses all understanding to descend upon all of us. And, God I pray that if there is anyone listening who doesn’t know, that You would make it clear to them right now what Your Son has done for us.”
There wasn’t much panic. Some passengers were saying “Hail Mary’s,” and you could hear some sobbing and crying, but no screaming or carrying on like you might expect. About the time we finished that prayer, the captain came on over the speakers and said, “Brace for impact.”
What happened next was to me the greatest miracle that occurred that day. I experienced a peace that I can’t fully explain. I fully expected to die in a few seconds and yet it was ok. I was enveloped by a remarkable comfort and peace even as we braced for impact. Then, we hit the water. I am often asked what it was like when we hit, and I honestly cannot give a great answer. At that time, I was expecting to get ripped to pieces, so anything short of that was pretty outstanding. What I remember most about the landing was the almost immediate rush of extremely cold water I felt at my feet. It started at my ankles, and, by the time the plane came to rest, there was water up to my knees. So all of a sudden a new fear crept into my mind: I’m going to drown. I can’t get off the plane. Can’t see the exits.
However, when I stood up, I could see that the nearest exit was behind me at the back of the plane, where somebody was struggling, in chest-high water now, to get it open, and they couldn’t. With the rate the water was rising, it seemed clear that we didn’t have much time. But suddenly, the water stopped rising, and the people ahead of me were able to open other exits, so everyone was able to get off in an orderly fashion.
I was one of the last ones off, through the left front door. And when I got into that raft, with a great sense of relief and praise, I asked if I could say another prayer, this one a prayer of thanksgiving. Then, the captain and co-captain got into the same raft. They were talking about the very small number of prior successful water ditchings, and as they talked it really hit me: This truly was an extraordinary event.
God, and Our Pilot, Are So Great!
Immediately after the crash, I had a range of emotions and feelings. Maybe the most overwhelming was that I should actually be feeling more. In fact, when I finally did get to call Jennifer, she wondered if I was in my right mind because I had just survived a plane crash, and all I really wanted to say about it was: “God is great. God is great!” The psychological shielding that the Lord has provided is significant. The night after the crash, I had one of the best nights of sleep I have ever had. To this day I haven’t had any nightmares or troubling dreams of being in plane crashes.
One of the biggest surprises immediately after the crash was the media blitz. When I flew back to Charlotte after the crash, an interviewer asked me what I thought about the crash and the pilot, and I said the first thing that came to mind, “God was certainly looking out after all of us.” What I didn’t expect was the reaction that that statement attracted on the Internet afterwards with several atheist blogs. I never expected to be put in the spotlight and ridiculed (albeit on a small scale) for just saying God was looking out for us. The fact is, He was doing a whole lot more than just looking out for us.
Less than two weeks after the Hudson River landing, a plane crashed going from New York to Buffalo, killing everyone on board. I remember watching the news coverage of that crash and thinking: Why wasn’t that me? Why did God save flight 1549 and not this one, too? I was faced with the most difficult question: If God is sovereign, why do bad things still happen? I had wrestled with this question before and was always reassured on an intellectual level with theological answers. However, this question takes on new life when you find yourself in the middle of it.
The other question was: What am I doing with my life now? God must have some plan for me. Then I would correct myself: God has always had a plan for me and this crash doesn’t change that, necessarily. The process of answering these questions certainly led to a reassessment of my life and what I was doing, especially since this came right during match season. I kept asking myself if dermatology was really what God was calling me to do. The net result was that I became more sure of where I am and where I’m heading in life.
Probably the most immediate effect I felt was peace during the matching process. My wife and I were going through a very difficult couples [medical] match, with most of the odds stacked against us. I had carried that burden throughout interview season, depending upon everything I had done during medical school and my interviewing skills to get me a spot. Two days after the crash I was on another plane heading to another interview; that’s just how that time in life was. Everything seemed to revolve around these interviews, and it was a fulltime job that even a plane crash really didn’t slow down.
But after the crash, I had this great peace, that my God is big, really, really big, and He is faithful. It wasn’t even a peace that we would match, it was a peace that God is in control, and if we don’t match God has something better in store. In the end, we did [medical] match together in Texas, at one of our top choices at Scott and White [Hospital]. After being in Texas only a few short months, we realized just how sovereign God is to put us where we are as He continues to provide.
The Long-Term Impact
I had gone through a period in high school when I really wrestled with the reality of God and if He really existed or did religion exist as a crutch for those who can’t deal with the reality of death. One of my greatest fears in dealing with this has been the thought: When I’m lying on my deathbed, will I doubt the reality of Christ in that crucial moment? Yet when I was faced with what I thought was certain death, I experienced the reality and closeness with Christ as never before. I now hold on to a much stronger assurance of my salvation.
The accident has also served to vividly show me flaws in my character and faith. During the ride down, I had an amazing peace. I had no control over the situation; I wasn’t the one in the cockpit. But after we landed, and the icy cold water came rushing in, my mind quickly reviewed my options for trying to save myself from drowning. I thought that maybe I could hold my breath long enough to swim to the back exit, or maybe I could kick out a window (a ridiculous thought in hindsight). This was the most terrifying part of the whole experience, because I was relying once again upon my abilities to get out of the situation and not so much upon God, even though seconds before I had completely relied upon Him.
Like many other times in life, I was willing to give God the big stuff that I couldn’t control, but I wanted to hold on to the other stuff that I thought I could influence. But to the degree that I rely on my own abilities for the things I think I control, to that degree the small stuff becomes just as nerve racking as the big things. Even on that plane God had begun to do a work in me to give Him even the small things, and He continues to teach me more and more about this.
Editor’s Note: This article is based, in part, on an interview of Drs. Andrew and Jennifer Jamison, conducted by CMDA CEO Dr. David Stevens. This interview can be accessed at www.cmda.org/cdd . Published originally in Today’s Christian Doctor, Vol. 40 No. 4, Winter 2009. A publication of Christian Medical & Dental Associations. For more information, please contact:
Christian Medical & Dental Associations
PO Box 7500
Bristol, TN 37621
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