Crash course planning for eternity

Not many of us will be able to say in our lifetime that we have survived a plane crash, but Andrew Palau, the 43-year-old son of renowned evangelist Luis Palau, can now add plane crash survival to the list of things that God has brought him through.

Andrew, his wife Wendy, and their three children went through this harrowing experience just a few weeks ago while traveling to visit Wendy’s family for Christmas vacation. After catching a red-eye from Portland, Ore. to Chicago, then hopping on a second flight to Miami, the Palau family was on their third and final airplane ride to reach their intended destination, Jamaica, when the crash happened.

Andrew describes the flight as “bumpy” as they reached the airport in Kingston, stating, “We were flying in a horrible storm and it was pitch-black outside. Even the flight attendants took to their seats because the ride was so rough.” Andrew recalls a lot of wind, torrential rain and a very “loud” and “different” sound as they began to land. “When the plane touches down, it is sort of a tradition in Jamaica to start clapping for the pilot and crew, but I thought the clapping that had started was a little premature. The plane was going extremely fast, faster than normal, and there was this tremendous roaring sound in the air,” Palau explains.

In an instant, the American Airlines Boeing 737-800 came to an immediate stop. “I hit my head extremely hard on the headrest in front of me. I didn’t know if we had overshot the runway or perhaps hydroplaned, but we all knew immediately that something wrong had happened,” recalls Palau. “The first thing you think of is, ‘Wow, I am alive’ and then your next thought is, ‘How is my family, is anyone else alive?'”

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What Andrew didn’t know at the time was that their airplane had skidded across the runway, causing the plane to break apart into three separate pieces, before landing several feet away from the Caribbean Sea.

As the emergency lights flickered, allowing a faint glow to take over the darkness, Palau saw smoke, baggage strewn about, wires and panels hanging down and broken windows. “One second you’re in this clean, tidy, shiny tube, where everyone is orderly and quiet, and in an instant, your surroundings completely change,” Andrew recollects.

After discovering that his family was alright, Andrew’s main concern was to get them off of the plane immediately. “All of a sudden, the panic set in to those on the plane. There was shouting, crying, and screaming. People were in shock. I remember being overcome with this horrible odor of jet fuel, and I told my family that we had to get off the plane right away,” says Palau.

Luckily, they were only two rows behind an emergency exit, so Andrew led his family toward the wing, which they jumped onto together. “I remember thinking that we would have a pretty good-sized jump from the wing to the ground, but luckily the wing was tilted and we only had about a 1-foot jump from the wing to the ground,” Andrew said. “Everything was so dark, and we really had no way of knowing what direction to go, but I wanted to get away from the plane because I could smell the jet fuel leaking. We ran about 15 feet, and the next thing we knew we were standing on the shore of the ocean.”

After realizing they ran directly towards the ocean, Andrew and his family were able to turn around and find a small road. Within seconds, they were able to flag down a bus. “Here comes this big city bus, clean, new and completely empty. The bus driver and ticket collector immediately got into rescue mode when we told them what happened,” Andrew explains. “We found a handful of women that were also on the plane and very disoriented, and we were able to get them onto this bus.”

Within minutes, Jamaica’s emergency personnel were on the scene of the plane crash. Andrew and his family were taken to the hospital, where Andrew received treatment for black eyes and stitches for cuts on his forehead.

“I just remember thinking to myself that the Lord did something miraculous for us. If the plane had stopped any earlier, we might have hit a wall, and if it had stopped any later, we would have landed directly in the ocean, and who knows what would have happened,” he explains. “I think now about Psalm 136, where God says, ‘Only He can do great miracles, His love continues forever’ because God alone does mighty miracles for us. One minute you think you are in control of your life and you know how to get things done, and the next you realize that you are truly very helpless. When tragic or scary things happen, your faith is tested, but God will see you through the tough moments, give you peace and take your fears away.”

Andrew recalls how the next two weeks were both a time of celebration and relaxation. “Me, Wendy, and the children all spoke about what happened … our fears, how we felt about the whole thing, etc. Your mind wants to process the accident and make sense of the whole thing. It really made us all sit back and ask, ‘Who and what am I really relying on?’ When things like this happen, you start to release everything that is unimportant in life. It is amazing how you can process things so much more clearly when you’re walking with God,” states Palau.

The experience reaffirmed Andrew’s desire to evangelize to all who he meets. “We all need to recognize that our life is fragile and is ‘like a vapor’. We are not promised tomorrow, and we all need to be ready for eternity. Once you are ready and are certain that you will be spending your eternity with God, your perspective completely changes. The Bible tells us that ‘these things are written so that people may have eternal life’. Make sure you have dealt with your eternity and are truly taking advantage of each day that you have by serving the Lord,” Andrew says. “No matter what tragedy you’re going through in life, an accident, a divorce, a death, etc God says to draw near to Him and He will draw near to you. Cling to Him and He will make you stronger. God doesn’t tell us that believing in Him is going to make our life perfect or take away all of our problems, but He does tell us that He is always with us. He will renew and reestablish our lives and give us a testimony to put to use in our life.”

With Andrew and his family now back safely in Portland, he is back to work at the headquarters of the Palau Life, an evangelistic organization that is dedicated to sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ and winning the hearts of as many people as they can by proclaiming His good News.

Andrew, who was a main figure in the Palau Ministries Fort Lauderdale’s BeachFest several years ago, is excited to see what God has in store over the next year. “We loved being in Fort Lauderdale; I can still remember all the people that were out there on the beach. We are asking for prayers from our friends around the world for this year’s festivals in Jamaica, coming this March, and in Uganda, coming up this September,” Palau states. “I can’t wait to see the relationships that are formed during these festivals. This generation needs to come to the Lord. If even only one person comes to Christ because of the festivals, it would all be worth it.”

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