By Mark Ellis
After hijackers commandeered an Ethiopian Airlines flight in 1996 and it eventually ran out of fuel, one man stood to give passengers one last chance to hear a lifesaving message – the gospel of Jesus Christ.
About 20 minutes after Flight 961 took off from Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, on a flight to Abidjan, three hijackers stormed the cabin and demanded to be flown to Australia.
“The stewardesses started looking scared and upset,” British passenger Katherine Hayes told The Scottish Daily Record later. “Then this man came on the intercom. He said he had hijacked the plane and had a bomb.
Hayes says she was surprised that most people remained calm. “It was almost surreal,” she reported.
A man nearby borrowed Hayes’ book, as a dreamlike normalcy prevailed for a while. “This went on for four hours without food or drink, but we were OK,” Hayes told the Daily Record.
The pilots knew, however, there was not enough jet fuel to get to Australia. As the precious fuel drained away, Pilot Leul Abate spoke directly and firmly to the lead hijacker.
“Guy, we have 30 minutes to live. Unless you allow me to land and refuel, we can not make it to Australia. The only option we have is to die in the sea,” Captain Abate later told The History Channel.
The hijackers didn’t seem to care and refused his request to land at Moroni, capital of the Comoros Islands.
Then the inevitable happened. One of the engines sputtered and stopped.
Shortly after that, Captain Abate came on the intercom and gave passengers the grim news: “We have no fuel,” he said evenly. “We have lost the left engine and we are about to lose the right. Prepare for a crash landing. That’s all I can say.”
People began yelling, screaming and crying and some became nauseous. After the adults got upset, children began to cry.
“They’d been blissfully unaware anything was wrong. But as soon as the adults got upset, so did they,” Hayes
told the Daily Record.
At 21,000 feet, the second engine failed. The 150-ton plane was still gliding, however, falling out of the sky at 2,000 feet per minute. They would hit the water in about 40 miles at that rate.
Andy Meakins, 43, from Beckenham, Kent, who worked with the Christian charity Tear Fund in Addis Ababa, was on the flight, seated next to his wife.
Franklin Graham met Meakins in Ethiopia in the ‘80s and recounted the next critical moments as retold to him. “Andy Meakins was a gentle giant of the faith, an Englishman who loved Jesus Christ and served Him in Africa for many years,” Graham recounted.
With a courage and boldness supplied by the Holy Spirit, Meakins felt compelled to do the unexpected. “Andy’s wife heard the snap of a seatbelt being unbuckled and turned to see her husband stand up,” Graham reported.
“Many of us might die in this crash,” Andy called out, “so there’s something you need to know.”
Andy then began to explain the gospel message with urgency but simplicity. He moved to each part of the cabin so that everyone would hear.
“He invited people to place their trust in Jesus Christ in repentance and faith,” Graham recounted.
“A flight attendant heard Andy’s words, bowed her head, and asked Jesus to forgive her sins and come into her heart. She watched many more respond and, along with another survivor, later told the story.
“Of the 175 people on board, 125 died, including Andy, who was still on his feet preaching the Gospel as the plane hit the water.”
“Every day tens of thousands of people slip from this world into eternity – the vast majority unprepared, “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1, NKJV). We need to take every opportunity to share the love of Jesus Christ and the truth of the Gospel, the only message that will make a difference to a lost soul. Just like an airplane going down, time is running out…”
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