Out of Breath, Out of Time, is my real life experience of near-drowning in a capsized plane.
It was a perfectly sunny day. You know the ones, bright, balmy, and filled with the adventures of a 27-year-old. Imagine my birds-eye view; sailing high above a patchwork of green fields stitched together by a snaked river that blended into the sea and framed on either side by snow capped mountains.
We had spent the afternoon dropping out of the sky into a few select farmers fields that bordered country café’s, with cheeky “got to fly” answers when asked if we wanted another round of coffee.
Then, squeezing through barb-wire fences before settling back into the plane, I felt my back pressed firmly into seat as we broke away from the ground and soared upward into the sky. With the side window open, I could breathe in the freshness of grass and allow the rush of wind through my hair and mind, washing all my troubles away.
As the sun began its descent, and we turned towards the airport, the pilots voice erupted above the engine roar. My gaze followed his outstretched arm, past his fingertips that pointed to the river far below.
We had just enough sun for one last dip before we headed in.
He wanted to do a “skip and go”. Like skipping a flat stone over water, he would skip the plane’s pontoons across the rivers surface and back into the sky. So without a care in the world, I felt the nose of the plane tilt and like riding a roller coaster, we pummeled towards the earth.
Then the plane contacted the water, and it flipped, catapulting hard and fast from nose to tail. As I saw him go under, my mind bellowed; take a breath! But as I opened my mouth to air, instead it filled with water.
The first thought that registered was there was no one who saw us crash. There would be no 911 call. The next, ticked off the reality checklist: I was alone, upside down, total blackness, water pulling me upward, gravity pulling me down, things bumping my body, the plane spinning, dragged itself along with the current. And lastly, I was trapped.
My first instinct was to push. I felt my feet hit the cabin floor and I pushed as hard as I could, while trying to unleash myself from the 3-point harness. But I failed to find the disconnect, I could feel lifejacket straps tangled with the harness, obliterating my efforts, and holding me fast.
I opened my eyes to the gasoline filled water that seared them shut once again. My brain calculating my next move, I swallowed the water, mindful not to waste what little oxygen I had, as I continued to search for the buckle that held one key to my survival. But inside my mind, I knew my time was running out.
That tingling sensation through my extremities, weakening my abilities, and signaling a warning.
Then the thought ran through my mind, I think I’m going to die.
Those thoughts, like striking a match, illuminated a movie of the life I had lived. As time seemed to pause, I am distracted by the billions of images from my birth to death. Every minute detail spliced together, giving me a chance to review my life and my own humanity.
And then the perspective changed, the images directing my attention downward, to this moment in time, or possibly it was myself that shifted. From this angle it appeared I was floating somewhere above, the lone witness to my other self somewhere below. I could see quite clearly, this woman, my self below, she was hanging upside down inside this plane, her long blond hair flowing wildly in the water.
From my vantage point, I felt strangely unattached to the pain and disconnected from the drama. My experience there was that I felt only calm, serenity in fact, and a deep feeling of unconditional love. I was flooded in bright light, that shone a flashlight on the darkened scene below.
And then the movie moved beyond my life… gifting me a preview of what would happen, if I was to die:
A vision of two police officers entering my parent’s yard, walking side by side along the cement path that led to big red brick steps and an old wooden door. They knocked twice, as I waited. I watched my parents open the door. I couldn’t hear the conversation; rather, I watched their facial expressions change. From curiosity, to confusion, acknowledgment and then devastation.
My mother’s body collapsed to the floor, she covered her head with her hands, and she screamed. Her scream ricocheted inside my mind, snapping me back into my body and reality. In that split moment in time, I made a vow. I was not going to do that to them. I was not going to die today. I was getting out of the plane, and I was getting out of it now!
And that choice changed everything.
All those pictures that had flashed forward in time, began to go in reverse. Back through millions, billions of images, and then it stopped. In front of my minds-eye was a scene from a movie I had watched. I didn’t know the name of the movie or the actors, what had come before or what would follow. But the scene in front of my eyes gave me all the information I needed to escape a plane that had crashed and overturned in water: A commander training young pilots how to do that.
I felt myself tune into every detail of this scene. The movie portrayed a training exercise. The commander barked orders. He kept repeating; This man is going to die unless he does…. This man is going to die unless he does…
I followed the script and escaped the plane and saved my own life.
I had never felt my lungs burn as deeply and painfully as they did the moment I breached the surface, dragging air into my collapsing lungs. But as oxygen filled my cells, I felt the pontoon slide past me.
I reached out, grabbed an edge and I pulled myself out of the water. I was alive!
I recall a profound elation that would remain with me for several months! Alone in the dark of night, on this unlikely island, I felt like an Olympian. I threw my arms skyward and let out a whoop! And into the black hole of night, I quickly yelled out for my friend, but silence was the only reply. So, I dove back into the water, in search of a body.
I made three attempts to find my friend and all failed, but gratefully he did survive. Somehow, he found his own escape, vomiting, and purging as he breached the surface and clung to the pontoon.
It took hours to be rescued, but we didn’t care, we had both survived.
The experience changed me; deep inside I would never be the same. It began with a quest for answers to my survival. How could my mind have such power when I was so close to death? How was it possible? And I did find the answers in neuroscience, but that will have to wait for another day.
But the things I learned that changed my life forever, I will share:
- In the space between life and death, I knew myself. My experience, memories and ability to understand circumstance and to make choices while being outside of my physical body, made me a believer in the existence of life after death.
- The often-forgotten secret of our mind, to do exactly what we ask.
- That even in life’s most dire circumstances, out of breath, out of time, we still can make choices that can change the trajectory of our lives.
Adele provides a full complement of body, mind and soul remedies and soulutions for grief, plus NLP training, coaching and certifications to grieving leaders, committed to influencing maximum potential in themselves and their team through life most difficult circumstances.