“Vertigo” - a pilot’s worst nightmare!  I was out of control in zero visibility, and was rapidly losing altitude as I descended to 300 feet above the ground.  I was too low to bail out!  Not exactly the kind of day I had expected as I left for work that Friday, January 22, 1971.

Fresh out of college, I elected to join the U.S. Navy after graduating from Trenton State College in New Jersey where I grew up.  I had originally planned to teach High School Industrial Arts after graduation, but the lure of becoming a Navy pilot led me to Pensacola.

I met the love of my life while in flight school in Pensacola, Florida, in the fall of 1965.  Janice and I married while I was in advanced flight training in Corpus Christi, Texas.  After receiving my “Wings of Gold” in 1967, I gained valuable experience flying patrol planes at various bases, and eventually became a flight instructor teaching formation flying in T-28 aircraft at Whiting Field near Pensacola, Florida.

I had heard of vertigo, and studied about what to do in case you get it, but had never experienced it.  (Vertigo is a temporary spatial disorientation of a person during which he completely loses his bearings.  The person’s senses give wrong information to his brain so that he cannot distinguish up from down and becomes utterly confused.)  I had always been critical of pilots who had crashed because of vertigo, and on one occasion I said to Janice, “That pilot must have been an idiot.  All he had to do was look at and believe his instruments.”  I came to regret that callous statement.  I was about to learn a very big lesson.

I was scheduled to fly “chase” on the final check ride for two student aviators, Hank and Luigi, who would be flying their planes solo in formation.  The weather was horrible that morning with haze and light rain and a front predicted to move up from the Gulf of Mexico into our area by late morning.  Just after we took off, the squadron recalled all VFR (visual flight rules) flights except mine.  My orders were to do all I could to find a place (within our training air space) clear enough to perform all of the required maneuvers for this final check ride.  As the weather continued to deteriorate, I was ordered to complete the check ride as soon as possible.  While completing the check, the rain worsened, and we continued flying lower and lower to stay under the cloud layer, now below 2,500 feet.

During training flights, as I watched and graded my student pilots, I sometimes flew under them, sometimes above them, and sometimes dropped back to observe from a distance.  At the time of this incident, I was about a thousand yards directly behind them at the same altitude and had just added power to catch up when they suddenly disappeared into a cloud bank.  Almost immediately I entered the same cloud bank.  With a 45-knot closure rate, I had a major problem.  We were all flying blind, and a collision was only seconds away!  I closed my throttle, activated my speed brake, and banked sharply to the left.  At the same time, I ordered my students to bank to the right.  I ordered, “Do it NOW!”  Then the unthinkable happened.  I had instant VERTIGO!  A horrendous new experience for me.  Flying in zero visibility, power off, speed brake down, in a steep turn-completely out of balance.  Flight and air speed dropping rapidly, I lost control of my airplane.  My body felt strange, and I had no idea whether I was upside down, sideways, or right side up.  I was bout to crash.  Death was staring me in the face.

Death!  As a child, I had come to realize that sooner or later everyone dies.  It was clearly stated in the Bible, “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgement.”  At that point in my young life, I knew that in order to gain eternal life, I needed to reach out and accept God’s free gift of salvation, which was through Jesus Christ His son.  As a nine year old boy, I invited Jesus Christ to be my personal Savior, and I knew without a doubt that when I died and left this world, I would spend eternity with God.  From that moment on, I had complete peace about my eternal destiny.

Now with death staring me in the face, and thoughts of my wife and young son racing through my mind, I cried out, “God help me!” And He did.  Not knowing my attitude (position of aircraft) or which was was up, suddenly, like a lightning flash during a thunderstorm at night, I caught a brief glimpse of the ground out the left side of the cockpit.  Instantly my vertigo was gone.  I rolled to my right, held the wings level, and raised the nose in a slight climb.  I had been a scant 300 feet from crashing.  Carefully, I made my way up through the clouds.  I really didn’t care where I was or which direction I was heading.  All I knew was that I was alive!  I cannot describe the joy as I broke out above the clouds at 5,000 feet and once again saw beautiful blue sky and sunshine.  I kept saying, “Thank you Lord,” over and over.  I leveled off and made my way back down through the clouds to rejoin Hank and Luigi.  But my problems were not over.  The weather was still bad, all of the airfields in the area were now closed, and we were running dangerously low on fuel.  But God was still with me.  And with His help, I managed to get all of us safely to the ground.

I arrived home that evening, haggard and pale.  Janice immediately noticed my appearance and asked what was wrong.  I replied, “Honey, I came within three seconds of dying.  I almost crashed this morning, but God miraculously spared my life.”

One day it won’t matter how big a house we had, or how many cars we had in our driveway, or how much money we accumulated.  There are only two things that last eternally:  God’s Word and the souls of men.  Therefore I have vowed to make the remainder of my life count for the Lord.  I am determined to serve Him until He calls me home.  I was “ready” to meet Him face to face back in 1971 on that airplane - and I still am.  One day I will meet Him.  One day you will too.

Are you ready?

THE BIG QUESTION:  Are you ready NOW? Will you be ready when your time comes?  The Bible says, “All have sinned.”  It also says that the penalty for sin is death.  But there is good news!  Jesus Christ came to earth and suffered death on the cross to pay this penalty for us.  All we have to do is confess that we are sinners and ask Him to save us.  He forgives us and our sin debt is paid in full.  It is through God’s grace that we are saved and have eternal life.

Please read the following Bible verses in the order I have listed them.  It is God’s simple plan of salvation as spelled out in the New Testament in the book of Romans.

Romans 3:23  All have sinned.

“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”


Romans 6:23  The penalty is death.

“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”


Romans 5:8  Christ died for our sins.

“But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”


Romans 10:9-10  Confess and believe.

“That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.  For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”


Romans 10:13  Receive assurance.

“For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Will you accept Jesus Christ as your Savior today?

Please call me if you want to share the good news that you have accepted Christ.  If you have any questions, or if you would like to meet with me, my toll free number is 1-800-874-0101.

Jim Porter, Broker

ERA Old South Properties, Inc.

NAS Pensacola at 2500 feet

NAS Pensacola at 300 feet