Saturday, March 24, 2012

Traumatic plane crash jolts man toward Christianity

Herald photo by Tyler Clarke

Beulah Land Baptist Church pastor David Webster.

With dense fog covering the Prince Albert Airport, a Beechcraft 90 airplane carrying nine passengers overshot the airport and crashed, Aug. 28, 1976.

For the aircraft's co-pilot David Webster, the event triggered a significant change in his life, with the new road he decided to travel down leading him to his current spot as pastor of Prince Albert's Beulah Land Baptist Church.

Back in early 1976, Webster has just moved from Quesnel British Columbia for his first job in piloting airplanes in Prince Albert.

"I was told that I would also be flying some co-pilot work into the Arctic, helping out - and me as a young man, that was exciting," he said.

His first long-distance co-pilot flight proved a disastrous one.

Setting out for Resolute Bay and a number of other northern communities, by the time the trip wrapped up the pilot deciding to forgo another night in the north in favour of going back to Prince Albert.

"It was a beautiful night - clear skies, you could see the lights 100 miles away," Webster said. "I remember that we could see Fort McMurray and all these towns as we reached Prince Albert."

As they approached Prince Albert, they were warned of a fog that was rolling in.

"We had a well-equipped plan, so it was no big deal," Webster said. "We came in to do the approach, but they kept warning us that the situation was deteriorating."

"We did approach at the runway, and missed the approach - we weren't seeing good enough to make a landing."

After a couple more attempts, the pilot decided to give it one more go before giving up and taking off to Saskatoon.

As the front page of the Aug. 28, 1976 issue of the Prince Albert Daily Herald reads, the aircraft "crashed in dense fog ... four miles east of Prince Albert and a mile north of Highway 302."

The Beechcraft 90's nine occupants escaped without serious injury, according to both the newspaper article and Webster's recollection.

After hitting the ground, Webster was carried out of the plane by passengers a safe distance from the now burning wreckage.

"I remember standing in this field with fire and fog, and there was a guy walking towards me in the field, and he had blood all over his hair, blood all over his shirt," Webster said.

"I thought - fire, fog, guy with blood all over him coming towards me - in this blood and fire, we must be in hell!"

Looking for answers

In a hospital bed after the plane crash, Webster began thinking about how miraculous it was that the nine occupants escaped serious injury or death, as the plane was travelling at approximately 160 miles per hour when it hit the field.

Adding another cryptic undertone to the incident, the issue of the Daily Herald following the plane crash carried a front-page story with a headline reading "Aircraft crashes claim five lives," referring to three other crashes Canada-wide.

"For the first time in my life I started wondering, ‘what happens when someone dies?' That started my quest to find that answer."

Although he was raised with the occasional Bible story growing up, he wasn't raised with very much Christianity.

Following the plane crash, it was a combination of a televised Billy Graham service, his mother buying him a Bible, and a prison chaplain from Prince George he heard at a public event while visiting family in Quesnel that pulled him toward Christianity.

One of the things the chaplain said that stuck with him the strongest was, from John 8:32, when Jesus Christ says "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."

Webster then began taking part time Bible college classes that were offered at the Beulah Land Baptist Church at the time.

"This book that frustrated me so much, when I was going through these lines of names and stuff ... All of a sudden it was like it was opening up before my eyes," he said.

Despite pleas from his boss and co-workers, he quit his piloting job and took up Bible classes full-time, saying he'd be away for only one year.

One year turned into four, and he graduated from a four-year program in 1983.

"I started preaching in prisons, I started a mission ministry downtown," he said. "I felt like the gospel wasn't getting out to where the people are. We had churched the gospel. The gospel isn't meant to be churched, it's meant to be out there in the community."

Although he ended up travelling to different areas, Webster settled down at the Beulah Land Baptist Church in 1999, becoming a pastor there almost exactly 30 years after first opening the church's doors.

Through a downtown faith-based addictions program, an annual public tent service at Kinsmen Park, and other efforts, he hopes to pass the Christian message on to others.

This year's Kinsmen Park tent service is set to take place Aug. 15-26.

Calling for a Christian revival

In sharing his story, Webster hopes to encourage others to seek the truth, and allow the truth to set them free as well.

All of his work in facilitating faith-based addictions programs, prison ministries and other efforts is groundwork toward a Prince Albert-wide Christian revival.

Small groups have been gathering every Wednesday morning at 6:30 a.m. at the Community Bible Church, and at the Beulah Land Baptist Church on Saturdays at 9 p.m. and Wednesdays at 7 p.m., to pray for a Christian revival.

This, Webster said, is a nucleus he hopes to grow in the near future.

Jesus started with only 12 people, he noted.

"All revivals of history have been a nucleus of people that have got together to pray," he said. "We're not going to make a difference without a revival."

Lots of good came out of Saskatoon's Christian revival of 1971, he said - something Prince Albert could benefit from in a way greater than Webster said he could easily describe.

"It will bring unity to the city, to people," he said.


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