“Just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment, so also Christ was offered once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people” (Hebrews 9:27-28). This became a reality for the over 150 people aboard Northwest Flight 255 on Sunday evening, August 16, 1987, at Detroit Metro Airport.
The possible reasons for the crash (wind shear, incorrect wing-ﬂap position, a malfunction, pilot error) seemed to matter little as one looked out at the sea of yellow bags containing the remains of the dead.
How can you comprehend whole families wiped out in a single crash? How can you comprehend the grief experienced by loved ones left behind?
It was an eerie feeling to be standing by the Salvation Army canteen at this crash site as numerous planes from other ﬂights ascended over our heads on their takeoffs. It was a long time before I was able to look at another plane and not think about this fatal crash.
General Albert Orsborn wrote: “It was necessary for me, before I was commissioned, to come to terms with the fact of death. I could not honestly accept many of the things sung and said about the subject. When marching in the funeral procession of a greatly loved ofﬁcer, cut down in his prime, and leaving a broken-hearted wife and family, my mind was battling with the complicated problem of the nature of death, and where God came into it.”
The ﬁrst reports over the television fostered hope for survivors. Later reports into the night, covered the extent of the damage. One survivor! A survey of the wreckage, with burnt automobiles, a brick building with a hole through its side and the highway viaduct through which the plane passed through, made it appear miraculous that one four year-old survived.
Percentages as they are, there is a high probability many of those on this ﬂight perished without knowing Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
Some of the passengers may have thought they would accept Christ on their deathbed. But with the suddenness of death, with no anticipation, no warning, and the ﬁnality of it, no longer could they change their minds. Their fates were sealed.
Lest I sound too pessimistic, we also hope. We pray there are those from Flight 255 who are right now saying: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Corinthians 15:54-57).
The appointed time to die came on Sunday, August 16th for many more than just those who died on Flight 255. For some it will be this very day. And for others it will be tomorrow. Perhaps you will have an opportunity to witness to someone today. Maybe this person will never have another opportunity to hear of Jesus and accept Him into their own lives before their appointed time. What will you do with your opportunities to share Christ?
Major Keith Welch first wrote this after the crash of Northwest Airlines Flight 255 30 years ago. He was a cadet in the Salvation Army training school for officers at the time. Major Welch lives in Kalamazoo, MI.