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Jewish World Review June 9, 1999 /24 Sivan, 5759

Mona Charen

Mona Charen
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Unsung heroes --
QUICK: WHAT DO YOU know about last week's plane crash in Little Rock, Ark.? You probably know that the plane landed in the midst of a severe thunderstorm and that it skidded off the runway and crashed. You may also know that the pilot and nine passengers lost their lives.

What you probably don't know, because it was hardly reported, is the most important part of the story: Little Rock was the scene of quite inspiring heroism, and some of the principal heroes were professing Christians.

We all ponder from time to time how we would react in an emergency. Each of us hopes we would prove altruistic, brave and heroic. But if we are honest, we admit that we can't be certain.

After Flight 1420 crashed into a light pole and burst into flames, passengers described the situation as chaos. Smoke filled the fuselage, and a fire ball engulfed the rear of the aircraft. Lucky for the passengers, there were numerous heroes aboard that flight -- a flight attendant who helped passengers to safety despite serious injuries of her own; a first-class passenger who got free of the aircraft in the immediate aftermath but then returned to help others; and more.

But a significant percentage of the heroes on Flight 1420 were members of the Oauchita Baptist University choir, which was just returning from a European tour. The choir had entertained German schoolchildren and Kosovo refugees in Austria, and was planning to tour China until the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade forced the cancellation of that leg of the trip.

According to the Memphis Commercial Appeal, Barrett Baber, a member of the choir, saw a flight attendant struggling to open one of the emergency exits. Even Baber, at 6 feet 4 inches tall and 225 pounds, couldn't budge the door. With the acrid air stinging their lungs and panic beginning to afflict some passengers, Barrett noticed a 1-foot hole that the crash had opened above the emergency door. He lifted the flight attendant and several passengers through the gap and then heard pleas for help from fellow choir members in the next seat. Before he could help them, he was overcome by smoke and dove out of the gap himself, hoping to kick open the emergency exit from the outside. What he couldn't have known is that the door would be out of reach when he landed outside in the mire near the Arkansas River.

Another choir member, senior Luke Hollingsworth, escaped through a rip in the tail section and then began pulling others out after him. He returned to the plane to assist the wounded. In the cockpit, he found the pilot dead but was able to get help for the co-pilot, whose legs were severely injured (one was broken). Hollingsworth then waded though the water, carrying on his shoulders a woman whose pelvis was broken. Before leaving her in the triage area that rescue workers had established, he gave her his shirt. "It was all I had," he said simply.

Tad Hardin, another choir member, told the Chicago Tribune that he was inspired to help others by seeing choir director Charles Fuller, whose 14-year- old daughter was severely burned in the crash, guiding strangers to safety after seeing to his own family.

The situation outside the plane was almost as horrific as that inside. The storm was sending sheets of rain and mothball-sized hail down amid lightning bolts and deafening thunder. Members of the choir covered the wounded with their own bodies to protect them from the hail. Dr. Marvin Leibovich recalled that when he arrived on the scene, he was "amazed at the calmness and stoicism that I witnessed." One of the Christian singers said he thought of Psalm 91 during the worst of it and found strength: "Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night."

It's a bit odd, isn't it, that the press have made little of this story? Suppose these heroes had been members of the Women's National Basketball Association or any other media-beloved group (you supply the candidates). Would this example of man's humanity toward man have been so overlooked?

JWR contributor Mona Charen reads all of her mail. Let her know what you think by clicking here. Please bear in mind, though, that while all letters are read, due to the heavy amount of traffic, not all letters can be answered.


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©1999, Creators Syndicate