Sunday, November 12, 2017

Mike Willesee: A premonition, plane crash and testing miracles (with video)

Mike Willesee returned to the Catholic faith of his childhood after he survived a plane crash.



Veteran journalist Mike Willesee has revealed how miraculously surviving a plane crash changed his life forever, kick-starting a journey back to his Catholic faith.

It is this faith, and the support of his family, that has sustained Willesee through his current battle with throat cancer and a debilitating course of radiation therapy that ended only recently.

The legendary current affairs presenter and reporter was too unwell to attend his induction into the Australian Media Hall of Fame on Friday in Sydney.

In a pre-recorded acceptance speech he said: "To be a journalist, for me, has been a gift that just keeps on giving."

If it wasn't for an extraordinary twist of fate 20 years ago, Willesee's career could have been cut short well before now.




In 1997 he and his cameraman Greg Low were about to board a twin-engine Cessna plane in Nairobi, Kenya, bound for Southern Sudan to film a documentary.

But before they took off, Willesee said he had a premonition the aircraft would crash.

"I couldn't understand it. I had this fight in my own head before I got on the plane. How do I tell Greg that it's going to crash?

"I don't believe in premonitions. Did I believe it was going to crash? Absolutely."

The plane took off in a tropical downpour and shortly after began experiencing problems.

For Willesee, the experience was surreal.

"When it stalled, and it stopped for this one excruciating second and then started to spiral and go down, the only thought I could get out of my head was, 'I was right', which is pretty freaky.

That wasn't the end of the drama. When the aircraft finally settled, the pilot and the other two passengers got out as fast as they could, leaving Willesee and Low in their seats.

"Greg's seat buckle was jammed because he had his camera on his lap and we thought the plane would explode and burn because of the noise and incredible amount of smoke.




"So I ran back into the plane and Greg freed himself as I got in and we got out."

The plane crash was the start of a long journey back to the Catholic faith of his childhood.

"The plane crash changed me a lot," Willesee said.

"It still took me I think maybe two years, for me to actually say there is a God."

Willesee never wanted to be 'a reporter for miracles'

Willesee tested his faith when he embarked on a series of investigations into reported miracles around the world.

"It developed a life of its own, it wasn't a plan, it wasn't my ambition to be the reporter for miracles," Willesee said.

He arranged for scientific tests to be carried out on communion hosts which — worshippers claimed — had been transformed into flesh and blood.

He made it an ambition of his to examine the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin — a length of linen cloth believe to bear the image of Jesus.

He travelled to Bolivia to interview a woman named Katya Rivas who claimed to experience the "stigmata" — the wounds suffered by Jesus Christ during his crucifixion.

"In my mind, I still hadn't converted. My mind was going so fast. Is there a trick? Can there be a trick? How can you do this? Katya is authentic. I have no doubt about that."

Willesee's interview with Katya Rivas apparently experiencing the stigmata formed the centrepiece of a TV special, Signs From God, which was broadcast in the United States to an audience of 28 million in 1999.

Looking back on it now, Willesee, perhaps surprisingly in view of his many other celebrated achievements, regards the story as the pinnacle of his career.

"I think that I was led into a situation where I saw something that was supernatural," he said.

"The easiest thing for me to do would have been to walk away from that. Out of it came a big journalistic win for me. I was given a commission by a major American network to do a two-hour special."

Mike Willesee's long-time colleague, Peter Meakin thought it was an unproductive detour for the legendary broadcaster.

"There was clearly a religious side to him, he was clearly deeply devout. And you know, that's admirable. I just didn't think it was an avenue for productive journalism."

Members of Willesee's own family remain sceptical.

"We were brought up in a very sceptical atheist family, so then to see him when we were young adults go back to the church in a big way, it was a surprise, it's something that we don't really understand," Mike's daughter Amy Willesee said.

It's been a remarkable change for a man who had turned his back on a staunch Catholic upbringing.

In spite of his current illness, the investigation of Catholic "miracles" clearly represents unfinished business for Willesee.

"I just felt an obligation to complete my task," he said. "I haven't done that."

Willesee is treating the challenge of cancer with equanimity.

"If you're going to be given a death sentence, I'm sure it's much easier to handle if you have a belief system that says, 'Well this is what will happen to you. What do you want to do about it?'.

"I believe in the short term at least, I'll get my health back. Whether it's for a short time or a long time doesn't matter that much," he said.

"I'd like to keep working. I like doing work which has a purpose and I like achieving. So I'd be aiming for that and having a lot of fun with my big family."

Story, video and photos ➤ http://www.abc.net.au

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

How many people have visions of a plane crash that doesn't actually happen? I wonder if they drop their faith then because an uncanny premonition turned out not to be realized? No, it is simply a matter of people wanting to believe in something that isn't there. It feels better to believe in an anthropomorphic higher power that rewards them when they needed to be rewarded, or when they weren't rewarded, to be in control of some great mystery where everything is in control by someone friendly.