John E. Ruffle

'In memory of those who perished as a result of the Air France Concorde disaster'

As I prepared for my shift at Heathrow at 1630 hours local time Tuesday, I putting aside my red plaid I reached for my black mourning tie again. For the third time in eight months, to be precise.

One of our controllers at work had died while on holiday; just dropped dead while playing cards in Spain, apparently, and leaving a young wife and mother here in London. His funeral had been buried earlier that day of Tuesday, 25th July 2000.

Arriving at Heathrow one hour later, I was confronted by the news of the Air France Concorde crash. The accident everyone had hoped would never happen. The unthinkable, but true. Smoke still acrid at the crash site. And there I was, strangely, appropriately, already dressed in black.

Late last year, we put a Korean air crew in a London Stanstead Hilton- a one hour drive from Heathrow to tragedy. Two days later, all four men had entered eternity, their Boeing 747 Frieghter a smoldering wreckage. Within weeks, a Kenya Airways Airbus A310 had crashed into the sea, minutes after take-off in West Africa. Far removed from Heathrow - but as it turned out, in our jet-setting, shrinking world, all too close. For this was one of 4 aircraft that services the daily Heathrow flight, both the aircraft and more importantly, the aircrew known to us.

Then, this week, by a strange twist of fate, the world's most famous airliner, crew no doubt struggling to maintain contol of the sinking jet, shuddered, flaming into a fatal stall and plumetted blazing into the ground outside Paris, less than an hour's flight time from Heathrow.

A strange twist of fate, I say, because although Air France has never had a scheduled supersonic service out of LHR (London Heathrow), Air France Concordes DO fly in on charter trips - such as the ill-fated flight on Tuesday was - and we take the crews off on those occassions. In fact, the first job I ever did at Heathrow was to fetch a crew off one of Air France's Concordes.

On Tuesday, I recalled that special moment last year when I was invited aboard an Air France Concorde at Heathrow (which actual aircraft in the fleet I don't recall). There I was, in the tiny, crouching supersonic cockpit, all alone, silently wispering a prayer of safety over the rows and rows of pre-digital controls, switches and read-outs.

My mind sped quickly to the previous week, at Heathrow Terminal Four. Thursday 20th July, at 1905 hours to be precise. The 1917 hours British Airways Concorde Heathrow departure for New York was being "pushed back" to the apron centre line by a tug. I think it was BOAF. I've watched Concorde numerous times, but the Thursday before the accident was different. I stood right up to the the double lines marking off the apron and the aircraft stand, listening to collosal roar from those four jet engines. As it slowly moved past me, port wing tip just some 50 feet away, the captain waved, and I waved back. And I morbidly thought, "What would happen if number 2 engine suffered an uncontained engine failure?" Why number two, I don't know. But it was almost as though I could see fire trailing from the port wing, shards spraying the fusalage like shrapnel, fuel tanks slugged by molten metal. And the closeness of the engines reminded me of the ill-fated Comet; the world's first commercial jet liner back in the 1950's.

However, instead of praying, I returned back to my waiting coach - parked behind one of the three remaining Kenya Airways A310 Aircraft as it happens, filled in my log, comdemned my over-vivid imagination, called through for my next job. On Tuesday 25th, I remembered the previous Thursday - my last shift before four days rest - and realised, too late, that our imagination belongs to God, and that intercession is the job for every Christian. We need to believe that our prayers really DO change things, even when we don't see the results.

My father taught me that while I was a little boy. Walking by an elderly ladies house on the way home form church one Sunday, I plucked up my courage and told my dad that I had this "funny feeling" we should stop by and see her for a minute. Far from thinking it strange, Dad turned around and we visited Miss Elsie in her gas-lit, gloomy and rancid parlour. She was pleased to see us, made polite conversation for a short while, but she seemed no different from usual. Not depressed, suicidal, or starving. Later, alone with my Dad I expressed my disapointment. "That couldn't have been God - she was fine!" I said. My Dad gently corrected me. "No John, you were right to tell me. We don't know how God may have used our visit. She SEEMED fine, but, she might have just them been praying for someone to talk to, to pray with her. Always obey the Holy Spirit when He speaks."

As He again speaks today, maybe I need YOUR prayers that I might be sensitive to the Lord's voice - and to respond, even when I never see the result. The result we all saw flashed on our TV news screens via photos and shaky movie footage was the one result we never wanted to see, and maybe, just maybe, timely prayer could have prevented it.

Yours in Him,

John E. Ruffle


This edition of NetWord Copyright 2000 by John E. Ruffle, London, England. All rights reserved.


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