June 9, 1999

INVESTIGATORS survey the wreckage of American flight 1420 in Little Rock. (RNS photo)

Baptist students put faith to work after Little Rock crash
___By Trennis Henderson
___Arkansas Baptist Newsmagazine
___LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (ABP)--It began as a two-week choir tour in Europe for 25 members of the Ouachita Singers. It turned abruptly into a crisis ministry amid the fiery crash of American Airlines flight 1420 just beyond the runway at Little Rock National Airport.
___The June 1 crash was the first fatal accident involving a commercial airline in the United States since 1997. Attempting to land at 11:51 p.m. amid torrential rain mixed with lightning, hail and gusting winds, the plane bounced twice on the runway, slid into a landing-light structure and split into pieces. Fire broke out as survivors scrambled to exit the wreckage and help one another to safety.
___Among 145 people on board, nine were confirmed dead, including James Harrison, 21, a member of the choir sponsored by Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Ark.
___Harrison, a senior music major at the school, also was serving as minister of music at Royal Baptist Church in Royal, Ark. At least one passenger reported that Harrison helped her to safety prior to his death.
___Crash survivor Dave Ozmun, assistant professor of communications at Ouachita, called it "just a shock" to learn that Harrison was among fatalities. Affirming he had seen Harrison repeatedly demonstrate "the strength of his commitment and faith" throughout the choir trip, Ozmun observed: "He's with the Lord. He's out of pain."
___Among 31 people who participated in the Ouachita trip, 25 were aboard the connecting flight from Dallas to Little Rock, including 19 students and Ozmun. Also on the flight were OBU music professors Charles and Cindy Fuller and their three daughters.
___Five group members were among the more than 70 people hospitalized following the crash. Two days later, only two of the five remained hospitalized.
___The Fullers' 14-year-old daughter, Rachel, remained in critical condition with severe burns. Kristin Maddox, a 22-year-old student from Ponca City, Okla., also suffered burns and was at press time listed in serious condition.
___Revelations of a number of heroic rescue efforts unfolded as survivors described the moments following the crash.
___Charles Fuller recalled seeing "flames coming from the front of the plane toward us." Jerking open an emergency-exit door and stepping onto the wing, Fuller said, "I got my wife out and began pulling people out until there were no more people in that part of the plane. ... I called out three times and there was no response."
___As he moved away from the burning wreckage, Fuller quickly found his wife and two of their daughters and guided them to safety. "I went all the way around the plane and there was my other daughter by herself, wandering around," he said. "I found her by the grace of God."
___Fuller said he was not aware of the seriousness of her injuries at the time, but his daughter remains the most critically injured among the Ouachita group. He counted his blessings, however, after the traumatic chain of events.
___"I'm thankful that my daughter is alive and has a good chance for survival," he said. "I'm thankful that we were able to go to Europe and share the gospel. I'm hopeful that God
"One of the blessings for me was to sit with and talk to and hold hands with those who couldn't move. I felt the Lord's presence throughout it."––Dave Ozmun
will bring comfort and healing to those who need it."
___During an interview with Diane Sawyer on "Good Morning America," Fuller declared: "There are times in life where your faith has to mean something. It can't be something that you just talk about. It has to be something that empowers you to live life."
___Several Ouachita students reportedly pulled fellow passengers to safety and offered comfort and encouragement as victims huddled in the pouring rain awaiting rescue crews.
___"Everybody was amazingly calm," said Ouachita senior Misha Perkins of Garland. "A man grabbed my hand and we ran. I was almost waist deep in water at one point. We had to jump. There were flames to be dodged as well."
___Realizing there were still people trapped inside the plane, Perkins said, "We began to pray. I remember falling to my knees and crying in my heart and hearing my friend pray, and we began to recite Psalm 91. We began to find more people and formed a cluster."
___She said she tried to use her body to shield an injured passenger from the weather. "I felt for a while like I was useless and in the way," Perkins said. She quickly discovered, however, that "I could put a calming hand on a shoulder, I could offer my body for warmth and I could tell them about Jesus, which ended up doing more good than I thought it could."
___"I saw a lot of gentle shepherds among the group," she said. "I watched people minister and be ministered to."
___Ozmun also sought to minister to injured victims. Quickly escaping the wreckage, he initially began running away from the crash site, fearing an explosion. Despite that fear, he returned to the plane and began helping those in need.
___"One of the blessings for me was to sit with and talk to and hold hands with those who couldn't move," he recalled. "I felt the Lord's presence throughout it."
___The students believe they witnessed miracles amid tragedy.
___"There were a lot of miracles at work at midnight," Fuller said. "The plane could have gone in the river or the fire could have been much worse. ... There's Somebody greater than we are who is in control. People of Christian faith are able to see life through an eternal perspective."


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