Airplane carrying Messiah group makes safe emergency landing

GRANTHAM, Pa. (Feb. 1, 2008) — Two educators and 24 students from Messiah College (Grantham, Pa.) were returning from a cross cultural trip to the French West Indies on January 30 when their plane was forced to make an emergency landing at Palm Beach International Airport in Florida.

They, along with over 75 other passengers, were on American Airlines flight #1738, a direct flight from San Juan, Puerto Rico to Philadelphia, Pa. Ninety minutes from land, smoke from an unknown source began to fill the cockpit, and the pilot instructed passengers to “prepare to ditch” the plane in the event of an emergency landing. As the flight crew began briefing passengers on the procedures for a water landing or an emergency land evacuation, many of the passengers, including the students, were “frightened out of their wits,” reports George Beck, one of the Messiah College professors on the trip.

Yet in spire of their fear, the Messiah students began reaching out to each other and to other terrified passengers. Some students began singing hymns and praying. Others tried to help comfort weeping passengers. In some cases students, tried to explain what was going on to Spanish-speaking passengers who could not understand the announcements being made in English. According to George, the Messiah students were “exemplary Christian servants throughout [the ordeal].”

The flight attendants quickly recognized the students’ maturity and began enlisting them for assistance. One attendant mentioned afterwards that the Messiah students made their job much easier. Another flight attendant remarked that it was very unusual that no passengers screamed throughout the ordeal. They attributed this partly to the “calming effect” that the students had on the whole group.

As the flight descended into the Palm Beach International Airport, an inner pane of the cockpit windshield cracked, but the outer pane remained intact. Upon arrival, seven individuals were taken by ambulance to the hospital including the pilot, co-pilot, and three flight attendants. Many others were treated for smoke inhalation.

American Airlines then arranged for a special jet to be brought up from Fort Lauderdale to take the remaining passengers on to Philadelphia. When they arrived at 4:30am on January 31, the press was there along with their families to greet them. After safely disembarking, some of the students were interviewed by Fox News and by a reporter from the Today Show. Press cameras seemed to zoom in particularly on a large sign made by a Messiah mother which read, “Messiah Students Flight # 1738---Our God is an Awesome God!”

The community at Messiah College expresses its deep thankfulness to God for His gracious protection over the entire group. And despite the last frightening hours of the trip, George and Lois Beck, who have led a number of similar excursions over the years, still find that they consider this to be “absolutely the best group we had ever had” on a cross-cultural.

The Brethren in Christ Church founded the Messiah College in 1909. In 1972 the legal ties between the College and the Brethren in Christ Church were replaced with a covenant relationship in which legal ownership of the College was placed with a self-perpetuating Board of Trustees.