The Miracle of 235 Golf
The Other Side of the Lee Tragedy
On Saturday, June 25, 2005 a four-seat Piper Cherokee, N235G, piloted by Andy Lee, and carrying his wife and their two children crashed on takeoff from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania’s Capital City Airport. Diane, Allison, and Amy perished in the ensuing fire. Andy survived with third degree burns to 50 per cent of his body. The news devastated the families, the Nashville community, and members of Forest Hills United Methodist Church.
Investigation of the accident has left many unanswered questions. What went so terribly wrong that day to cause this accident? The aircraft was well maintained. The pilot is an experienced flight instructor with many hours in this aircraft. The weather was good. The plane had barely lifted off the runway when Andy realized the engine was losing power and that he had a serious problem. He did what pilots are trained to do in such situations. He attempted to land the plane as best he could straight ahead. If this meant crashing into buildings or other structures (mobile homes in this case), so be it. The chances of survival would be far better than attempting a turn and spiraling into the ground. In a controlled crash such as this, we can expect the airplane to be bent, twisted and badly damaged, but not destroyed. Survival of the passengers, though not assured, is a real possibility. The unfortunate outcome in this instance was an intense fire fueled by a propane tank in one of the mobile homes that exploded shortly after the crash.
The prospects of the National Transportation Safety Board investigators ever being able to conclusively determine the cause of the accident are slim since the aircraft was almost totally consumed in the intense fire. While it would be nice to know the cause of the accident, having an answer will not accomplish much more than satisfying our curiosity.
There is however another unanswered question that is much more interesting. How did Andy manage to exit the airplane and avoid the same fate as Diane, Allison and Amy? Typical of most light planes, there was only one door for passengers and crew to enter and exit and it was on the co-pilot or Diane’s side. The only recollection that Andy or the local resident who pulled him to safety away from the fire have is Andy standing outside on the wing frantically trying to open the latched door to get Diane and the girls out of the burning airplane. There has been much speculation as to how Andy was able to exit the airplane. However, none of it stands up to critical scrutiny. Therein lies a great mystery. According to the dictionary an event that appears unexplainable by the laws of nature and so held to be supernatural in origin is called a miracle. Thus we have the Miracle of 235 Golf. Yes, a miracle in the midst of a terrible tragedy. Andy, though badly burned, is with us, Diane and the girls are gone.
Whether or not you believe God still works miracles, you’ll have to agree that Andy is the recipient of God’s grace. We don’t know why the events of June 25 played out as they did, but it seems God has a plan for Andy and chose to spare him from death’s grasp on that day. Andy is a witness among us to God’s grace. Lest you view this argument as just trying to put a happy face on a sad event, consider the good that occurred so far, all of it a direct result of the events of June 25.
For starters, an incredible amount of authentic Christian action has surrounded Andy since the accident. It is on a scale unprecedented in the recent memory of Forest Hills in terms of the number of people involved, the extent of the labors undertaken, and the duration of these selfless acts. Immediately and without hesitation, Andy’s church family, as well as others in the community, went to work to care for his needs. No need was off limits. From caring for the house, locating and caring for Whitney, the family dog, cutting the grass, finding and relocating Andy’s cars, locating important papers, sending him cards and letters, to visiting him in the hospital in Allentown, Pennsylvania. These many acts of agape love have been an awakening to others. So powerful are these works that some former members have returned to Forest Hills to once again be a part of this loving, caring community of faith. It is often said that an important strength of Forest Hills is its church family. The tragedy of June 25 put that claim to the test, and the verdict is clear. The family Forest Hills is indeed very strong.
A scholarship fund has been established for underprivileged high school seniors in memory of Diane, Allison and Amy. In just three months the fund has reached $92,000 and is well on its way to a goal of $1,000,000. Before long needy high school seniors will begin receiving grants from the fund, a direct result of the tragedy of June 25. Lives have been changed. People on the fringe of this tragedy and its aftermath have come to realize that there really are authentic Christians among us – lots of them – and that it not only right to engage in these selfless acts of agape love, but it’s okay too.
Such acts of love and caring have not been only the work of Andy’s Forest Hills family. During the two months Andy was in intensive care at Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown, he was the beneficiary of countless acts of support by local Christians that he did not know and that did not know him. The body of Christ in Allentown embraced Andy during his stay and, while the doctors and nurses worked to restore his physical health, two pastors and church members tended to his spiritual and other needs. They were there for him.
The exposure Forest Hills has received in the community through the television and news media has been phenomenal. Coverage went on for weeks. In addition, hits on the church website, which normally run 100-200 a day, jumped to 1000-2000 a day. Forest Hills has become much more widely known in the community.
The tragic events of June 25 have changed lives – many for the better as they have encountered God’s grace in action. We have been touched in ways we never expected and reminded once again that God is with us even in the midst of tragedy and that we are both the recipients and the instruments of his grace. As we go forward and the pain of the tragedy recedes, the Miracle of 235 Golf will live on. As Andy gets on with his life and tells his story of the events of the summer of 2005, as scholarships are given out by the JubiLee fund, more and more people will be exposed to God’s grace and have their lives changed for the better.
The Miracle of 235 Golf like the miracles of the Bible get our attention because they are so extraordinary. Now that God has our attention with this miracle, we can see the ordinary taking place powered by God grace. By opening hearts and minds to God’s grace, lives will be forever changed and the world will have more Christians walking the talk and fueling a hunger for a way of life that is better than they have ever known.