By Pastor Ted Weis (C)
This story was first printed in the Little River Monitor Journal in 2004.
Tyler Whorton, son of Allen & Kristi Whorton of Little River, returned home to the United States last week after completing a year of military duty in Iraq.
But on the day that Tyler left Iraq, he almost didn’t get out alive.
About 3:00pm Iraq time on Tuesday, October 26, Tyler, his entire mortar platoon, along with medics, and other personnel, took off from Mosul on a C-130 airplane. When the plane left the ground, a sense of relief came over everyone on board. The soldiers had completed their year’s service. They had done their job well. They survived a year in a hostile war zone.
Meanwhile, back in the United States, three of Tyler’s relatives sensed a strong urge to pray the day before Tyler was scheduled to leave. Early Monday morning, Tyler’s aunt Merrily Pierson of McPherson started praying when she couldn’t get Tyler off her mind. Unbeknownst to Merrily, the mother-in-law of Tyler’s brother was also led to pray. Lynette Dansel of Jetmore, Kansas reported a strong burden to pray for Tyler.
Why was God leading people to pray? Less than five minutes after the wheels of Tyler’s airplane left the ground in Mosul, as the aircraft was still ascending into the sky, everyone on board heard something hit the plane. Was it a bird? That’s what everyone thought at first.
Then, Tyler looked out his window and saw that the plane’s # 1 engine was on fire. The C-130 has four propeller engines, two on each wing. The # 1 engine is the far outside engine on the plane’s left side.
Adrenaline swept over everyone. The plane was 1,000 feet in the air. Returning to Mosul was out of the question. The plane was potentially too crippled to make it back. If they did try to return, they risked falling under enemy fire.
Tyler and his comrades had served an entire year in Iraq. All that time, Tyler’s parents had prayed for his safety. All that time, Tyler and his platoon had avoided injury and death. Now, at the very moment they were leaving to get out, would they all die in a plane crash?
Everyone was scared, but everyone had also been trained for moments like this. Fortunately, pilots of the crippled plane were able to remotely extinguish the fire and land safely at a nearby airfield. The emergency lasted a total of five minutes. But as Tyler related, it seemed like hours.
After being so glad to leave Iraq forever, the 57 troops were relieved to be back on Iraqi ground so quickly. Amazingly, no one was injured.
What hit the plane?
When the pilots and soldiers went to examine the disabled engine, they made a startling discovery—a hole had been blown through the engine!
Apparently, an enemy insurgent shot a shoulder-launched, surface-to-air missile at the plane as it took off from Mosul.
Miraculously, the missile didn’t explode when it struck. In all likelihood, the insurgent forgot to pull out the missile’s two security pins that would have armed the explosive.
Further examination of where the missile struck unveiled the good fortune of everyone. The missile hit only 12” away from the plane’s fuselage and about the same number of inches from the plane’s left propeller.
If the missile had struck the propeller, the debris would likely have shattered the neighboring propeller on the plane’s left side.
With both propellers on the left side destroyed, the plane would have fallen like a rock hundreds of feet to the ground. And if the missile had struck the fuselage, the fuel that was propelling the soldiers out of a war zone would have become the bomb that killed everyone on board.
Startled, but grateful, Tyler and the 56 other soldiers boarded another plane later in the day, making it safely--and without incident--to Kuwait. From there, Tyler joined 335 other soldiers and flew out of the Middle East to Germany and then on to Bangor, Maine. In Bangor, a veterans group greeted the arriving plane. The veterans shook hands with all 335 soldiers, thanking them for their service. Then they handed each arriving soldier a cell phone and said, “Call whoever you want.”
But Tyler had already called his wife Darsha—as soon as he got to Kuwait. He asked, “Were you by chance praying for me early this morning your me?”
Darsha replied, “No, me and the baby were asleep. Why?”
Tyler said, “Oh, nothing…”
Looking back on all that happened, Tyler said, “It just goes to show you that it’s never over until it’s over. I never prayed so hard in five minute’s time in all my life. Our pilots did an incredible job.”
Interestingly, the weekend before Tyler left Iraq, Tyler’s grandmother Loretta Pierson felt such an urgent need to pray for Tyler that she felt sick to her stomach. The only other time Loretta prayed with such fervency was when Tyler was involved in a shootout with insurgents during his tour of duty.
Said Loretta, “Sometimes, God alerts us to pray before something happens.” Indeed, that’s what God did when he led the members of Tyler’s family to pray.
Christians know the need for prayer. Now, they know its power!