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Why did I survive, whereas the children died …?

Saturday, August 28th, 1976 a Lockheed C-141A with 27 passengers on board crashed when landing in Kangerlussuaq by the fiord in Greenland. Only four of the 27 persons on the…

Saturday, August 28th, 1976 a Lockheed C-141A with 27 passengers on board crashed when landing in Kangerlussuaq by the fiord in Greenland.

Only four of the 27 persons on the plane survived. Two were native Greenlanders, one person from the American crew – and the young, Danish carpenter Bjarne.

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I woke up during the approach to Kangerlussuaq when the captain told us to put on the safety belts. I stuffed the cigarettes back in my pocket and made myself comfortable in my seat. Through the small plexi-glass window I noticed that we were flying very low.  I could see the sand dunes along Kangerlussuaq fiord, and I remember thinking that we were flying very fast.

Then we hit the ground hard, next the pilot freaked out and he floored the gas as if he was driving a Formel-1 racing car, this gave us a kick back up in the air. I heard later on, that he used to be fighter pilot during the Vietnam War, so he pulled the plane back up as if it were a jet fighter, whereupon one of the wings banked into the ground. And then he panicked.

When I saw the flash from the first explosion I just had time to think: ”Now we are in real trouble.”

Then I remembered that we were skidding out in a circle, so my glasses flew off and were crushed on the floor, and that my friend Bjarne looked at me nervously. Then I hit my head against the seat and passed out. When I woke up again there was another explosion.

For a second I was in shock. I sat in the infernal noise and watched a black American who screamed and screamed. His clothes had completely burned off his body, and with his hands reaching towards heaven he collapsed and was dead.

Finally the seriousness of the catastrophe hit me. Suddenly everything and everybody was on fire. People were burning like torches. Everybody screamed.  Burning fuel was squirting out all over the floor, and the fire was approaching my friend and me. I was panic stricken when my pants burned, and the plane was now a roaring blaze.

Everything had turned into a total chaos of screams, flame, smoke and a searing heat. Everybody instinctively thought: Let me out of here, Out, out, out… You react like an animal in a situation like that. It’s all instinct. Pure drive for survival. You can all kiss my you-know-what. I just have to get out of here. That’s what everybody thinks.

’You are going to die, Bjarne, You are going to die!’ This thought was ripping at my brain. And while the fire was licking up my legs, I fought my safety belt. It wouldn’t open. I pulled and tore at the buckle and thought of only one thing: To get away from the flames. Finally I succeeded in opening it. Then the second explosion occurred, and everything went black…

A short time later I woke up again. 13.210 gallons of burning fuel developed 2.550 degrees Celsius, similar to the conditions in a crematory oven, and everything was still total chaos. There were flames everywhere – and I was on fire as well – and there was pitch black smoke. I wanted out, but I couldn’t free myself.

I was lying among the suitcases, and I couldn’t tear myself free. My feet were stuck. I pulled and pulled, but I was stuck. So at that moment I decided to die. This was it. I was going to end my life, 23 years old, in this plane in Greenland.

I was certain of that, while the screams of those people, with whom I had just been chatting and joking, slowly died down. I lied down flat on my back. This was it. Oh my God, I give up, I’ll just lie down and die.

But suddenly my entire life passed in front of my eyes, and I saw my wife, Jonna, and our two small children, Brian and little Berrit, six and two years old in front of me… Hell no! I had to fight. ”If you don’t succeed doing so now, you will never get free, never get home to your wife and your kids,” I thought.

And then, I don’t know how it happened. But suddenly I found strength! To Hell if my toes stay stuck in those suitcases, I thought. I used my last strength  and pulled hard. And I got free!

How I managed to find the hole out of the plane by the broken tail, and how I managed to get out, I have no idea, but I have been told, that I came staggering out of the plane as the last survivor with several parts of me on fire and steaming from smoke and heat.

Some might imagine that you become religious, when you survive a plane crash like this one.  I did not. I am an atheist, and I am convinced that I survived by coincidence and a stroke of enormously good luck. If I hadn’t found a place to exit the plane, I would have been fried just like the others.

On the contrary I believe, that I was lucky to be seated by the wing, and that I was saved because I was wearing incredibly many layers of clothes – from long johns to lots of jackets, because I knew it would be cold in the plane.

During the first 15 years following the crash up to the beginning of the 1990’ies I suffered from horrendous nightmares. I woke up seeing flashes of light and hearing the crash of the first explosion, and I could smell the smoke from the jet fuel during the dream – then I’d jump out of bed.

Fortunately my nightmares have become more and more rare – but for the remainder of my life I will still be plagued by a terrible feeling of guilt because I am alive. Unfortunately, this feeling of guilt has weighed more heavily than the joy of life and of being a survivor.

The feeling of guilt came right away. Why should I survive, and not some of the others? Why wasn’t it my friend, who sat right next to me, who survived? I keep asking myself “Wouldn’t you have been able to rescue some of the others?”

It’s just as if  … I don’t actually know if he who died and burned to death in the next seat were a better person than I. So I keep asking myself why – much too frequently and much too much. But I do try to let it go, to push it away from me, or else I’ll just go crazy.

I’m feeling that my psychic health is much improved, however, it is as if I have become a bit more pessimistic as a result of that plane crash. It actually is not as if I see black holes all around me, but I have a somewhat harder time perceiving the joys. Something is broken in me. I’m no longer the same person. August 28th, 1976 hit me very hard, and my children both feel and see this as well.

Why should I be saved? Why did the guy sitting next to me and the four children die? Thoughts like these have probably trumped living in the moment…

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Bjarne, 65   

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Photo: Nicky Bonne

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My life and my place in the family

I have a job as a tour guide on Bali. I work 8 hours a day, 6 days a week. I’m earning 1.500.000 Indonesian rupiah a month. (About 230 US-dollars)….

I have a job as a tour guide on Bali.

I work 8 hours a day, 6 days a week. I’m earning 1.500.000 Indonesian rupiah a month. (About 230 US-dollars).

My husband is also working in the tourist industry. We met three years ago, got married three months later, and we have a little daughter. She is two and a half years old.

My husband is the youngest of five sons and because of that we have to live together in their house and support them now, when they are too old to work. They are both 70 years old.

Before we were married my father in law made all decisions about our common life. Now my husband does that. That’s the tradition and that’s how it should be.

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Desi, 25   

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9/11 changed my life forever …

My story isn’t so different from many other immigrants to the USA. I’m the naive farm boy from Denmark who, with an apprenticeship in furniture marketing from ‘Magasin’ in Copenhagen,…

My story isn’t so different from many other immigrants to the USA.

I’m the naive farm boy from Denmark who, with an apprenticeship in furniture marketing from ‘Magasin’ in Copenhagen, arrived in 1975 in Denver,Colorado, on a temporary workvisa with $500 in my pocket and two suitcases.

Having loved history, and the stories of the old west since as a young boy i read the adventures of Davy Crocket, i wanted to stay in the US, and ended up working for Danish stores in Calgary and Vancouver, Canada, a couple of years while waiting for my Green Card.

The timing was perfect.

My former Denver boss, Christian Christensen, was starting his own store and invited me to become a partner. Within two years, I moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, and opened my own furniture storestore.
Over the next few years I was able to buy Christian out and move to a larger location. From the start we carried mostly Danish teak, but over the years we evolved into a full-service contemporary store and were an early entrant in online sales.

Albuquerque has been good to us. Although we had our ups and downs, by 2000 we had seventy employees and multimillion dollar sales.

Then came 9/11.

Most of us remember where we were that day, and what we did. I. and the entire staff, were glued to the showroom TVs. We couldn’t believe what we were seeing. My wife, Sylvia, called from work. She was employed as a civilian property specialist with the Air National Guard. The base was on lockdown, and there were rumors that the air force would shoot civilian air craft out of the sky.
We had plenty of time to follow the news. There were no customers, and the streets were almost empty.

Over the next to weeks, we scrambled to save the business. Merchandise arrived daily, and there was no way we could pay for it. We laid off more than half of the staff. And we cut costs wherever we could. In the end we survived, but sales never fully recovered.

Another economic crisis in 1998 was hard, and when we were hit again in 2011, I was burned out. It wasn’t fun anymore.
Soren Thomsen, my minority partner and GM, offered to buy me out. We came to an agreement, and I have been happily retired from retail ever since.

Even back in school in Denmark, I enjoyed storytelling and language, and now I have the time to engage my creative side. I’m writing a series with a Danish protagonist, John Agger, and I put him in impossible situations in Bosnia, New Mexico and the cartel world in Mexico. ‘Sword of the Prophet’ was published in 2016, and I have two more with an agent at the moment. The forth is in the works.
If a writing career is in the future, we will see, but I enjoy the ride.

In 2019, Sylvia and I will celebrate our 25th anniversary. She’s a native New Mexican, and we met over a hog-dead-at a matanza, or luau, at my house, and we never looked back.

Over the years we have built my little, traditional adobe house into a cozy hacienda, we travel the world, and we enjoy each others company.

A couple of years ago, Sylvia’s son, Jason, died suddenly from a stroke, leaving two small children.

Sari, now 10, and Luke, just turned 3, are the love of our lives, and we see they often. For me, who never had children of my own, to become grandfather is amazing, and I figure I got the best of both worlds. I didn’t have to go through the whole ‘raising kids’ thing, but ended up with the best grandkids in the world. Pretty neat.

I just turned 65 and am the proud owner of a Medicare card.

Books need to be written.

The world is waiting to be explored.

Life is good.

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Benny, 65   

 

 

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The sailor who became a woman

It isn’t so uncommon to be homosexual, but to be born with the wrong body is much worse. That’s what I struggled with through all the years as a man…

It isn’t so uncommon to be homosexual, but to be born with the wrong body is much worse.

That’s what I struggled with through all the years as a man with the name Hugo, and when I reached my forties I feared that I would never be able to succeed in life.  So I tried to commit suicide and ended up in a psychiatric hospital.

I felt that I was now too old to ever live a normal life. I was afraid to tell anybody. It was horrible. I was in the wrong body, and whenever I left the bathroom and passed the big mirror in the hallway I thought that I just didn’t look right.

During the period between 2000 and 2002. I began discussing it with the folks at Denmark’s biggest hospital, but their perceptions differed vastly from mine. They believe my condition is a psychological flaw caused by a bad upbringing, but that’s not what this is all about. You are born this way. It’s something genetic, and it can’t be helped. In the end, I was refused an operation

Then I decided to handle matters myself.
I knew others, who underwent operations by Doctor Preecha in Thailand. He’s tops in the world and he had operated on more than 2,500 before me. I have never had any problems after the procedure. Everything performs perfectly.

He removed my penis, gave me a vagina, and I got to look quite normal.

Now my body is the way it’s supposed to be and today I live a quiet and normal life as Anette. I live alone, but I have not given up on love. After all, you might suddenly encounter love at the library or in a shop. Here you are, grabbing a can of tomatoes and he may be standing right there and say “hi” …

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Anette, 61   

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Watch Anette tell her story – in danish with English subtitles – 8 minutes.

 

 

 

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Walking on Sunshine …

Kim is a member of the crew, who is playing ‘The Book of Mormon’ at Det Ny teater (The New Theatre) in Copenhagen until May this year. The Danish production…

Kim is a member of the crew, who is playing ‘The Book of Mormon’ at Det Ny teater (The New Theatre) in Copenhagen until May this year.

The Danish production of the successful musical has gotten amazing reviews.

Every night before Kim goes out on stage, he looks at his feet and feels grateful.

In this movie, he tells why.

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Kim, 40   

6 minutes, in English

 

 

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Sugarbabe & Sugardaddy – the open relationship

She is young and comes from Poland, he is 31 years older than her and from Denmark. For three years they have been together as a couple. The last two…

She is young and comes from Poland, he is 31 years older than her and from Denmark.
For three years they have been together as a couple. The last two years in an open relationship where they allow each other to have sex with others. Oliwia dates older mature men and she receives luxurious gifts, fancy dinners and expensive trips. Carsten dates other young women. And sometimes they have a threesome with another woman.

‘I have been sugardating for two years and I have met men from all over the world. I am extremely attracted to the luxurious life which includes expensive clothes, expensive restaurants and expensive hotels. I love my life, although it has occasionally been a struggle because I come from a Catholic family in Poland, and sometimes Carsten and I also have to deal with jealousy. Today we have both accepted that our partner has sex with others.’
Oliwia, 24   

‘When the energy stagnates in a lake, the water begins to rot. You find the same mechanism in a relationship. It is necessary to interact with the surroundings. We love each other, and we still challenge our relationship every single day, because it ties us closer together. There are still so much, we would like to explore sexually with other partners but also the two of us with a third person. I love to experience the differences in women – not only sexual but also culturel. Before I met Oliwia, I had three lovers and seven mistresses at the same time. I lived in a polyamorous relationship, and all my lovers knew each other.’
Carsten, 55   

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Video in English – 12 minutes.

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The last goodbye to my old class teacher

A few years ago I read that my old class teacher had died, and I was so moved, that I wanted to go to his funeral. I kind of needed…

A few years ago I read that my old class teacher had died, and I was so moved, that I wanted to go to his funeral. I kind of needed to be there. I believe that we all meet people at a certain time of our lives, who we, without even knowing it, will be deeply affected by.

At the funeral I met his wife, and I know that we met back at school when I was a pupil, and suddenly I remembered that she said the most incredible things to me when I was a boy.

She had the ability to see through me, and somehow she made me aware that there were positive things about going to school. Things I could not see because I in my 5th or 6th year stopped trying, and my good grades dropped.

The funeral ended up being quite moving, because I suddenly felt that so much of what I had kept inside of me, was released in that church …

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Pete, 62    

 

 

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I’m no longer just the worried mother …

Deep inside I am filled with happiness and gratitude, and I feel extremely lucky. I’m living together with a wonderful man. I love him and he loves me. And I…

Deep inside I am filled with happiness and gratitude, and I feel extremely lucky. I’m living together with a wonderful man. I love him and he loves me. And I have a wonderful daughter.

When I look at her I think: ‘We made it. We made it! ‘
We have had stormy conflicts where I have been convinced that I lost her forever. ‘Now she travels to the United States, and I will never see her again’, I thought.

But it all ended happily.

Today she is 29, and she is studying to be an actor. She is really happy with her choice of education, and sometimes she even asks me about things. How amazing, that I can help her.
She is becoming an actor, and now I actually have some knowledge, that I can share with my daughter. Knowledge that she can use for something. I’m no longer just the worried mother …

Today I have a power that surprises me.

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Hella, 55   

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My friend was forced to crash into the Pentagon on 9/11

I will never forget September 11th 2001. I was about to go flying that day as a captain for American Airlines but all flying in US airspace came to a…

I will never forget September 11th 2001.

I was about to go flying that day as a captain for American Airlines but all flying in US airspace came to a grinding stop after the terror attacks happened in New York, the Pentagon, and Pennsylvania. One of my colleagues, Charles Burlingame, was the captain on flight AA 77 which got hijacked by 5 Islamic terrorists and crashed into the Pentagon near Washington D.C.

My wife Valeria and I were friends with “Chip” who until recently had been living in Fort Lauderdale, like us, but Chip moved to Washington D.C. to be closer to where he worked when he was not flying. Chip had started working at the Pentagon and it was utterly absurd that it was Chip who was in command of AA 77 which crashed into the Pentagon.
As a side note, several pictures of Chip and his family as well as his wallet he was carrying that infamous day he died, are now at display at the magnificent 9/11 Memorial & Museum in downtown New York.

Our daughter, Sophia, who is now 16 years old, had been born just 3 weeks prior to 9/11, is seen here with her mom Valeria in my cockpit on a B777-200 in Miami before flying them to Dallas, Texas.

On the morning of 9/11 I was in our bedroom watching my wife Valeria breast feeding Sophia when all hell broke loose while watching TV and we watched the 2 airplanes fly into the World Trade Center twin buildings where 50.000 people worked.
It was an absolutely horrible day which I will never forget. I almost immediately started receiving E-mails, texts and phone calls from family and friends from Europe, South America and the USA. Everybody were deeply concerned and wanted to know if I was one of the captains that crashed and if Valeria and Sophia were alright. Hearing from family and all the friends was very moving and touched my heart.

About 7 months after the 9/11 attack, I had a very frightening experience when I was on my last day of a 3 day trip. I met a police officer on the jet bridge on the way to my airplane, who informed me that there was a bomb threat on the airplane I was about to fly from Miami, Florida to Cancun, Mexico. The message was very clear: my airplane would explode over Miami after takeoff !!!!
After an about 3 hour delay where every single passenger got interviewed by FBI, American Airlines security and the police and the bomb sniffing dogs had checked the inside of the plane as well as every single bag, I ended up ordering two passengers off the airplane and we finally departed for Cancun.

It was longest 75 minutes of flying time for all the passengers before we landed safely in Cancun, Mexico.

Over the years, first an First Officer and since the summer of 1996, a Captain, I have flown and been introduced to presidents, royalty, sport stars, movie stars, bands, singers etc. etc. but the one person that made me almost speechless and somewhat intimated, was an elderly gentleman, who in November of 2009 on a flight from Orlando, Florida to Miami, came up from First Class, while still on the ground, with his hand out ready to shake mine. He smiled and I knew that I recognized his face but at the time could not place it and he said:”I just wanted to come up and introduce myself. My name is Buzz Aldrin”.

I stood across the man who in 1969 was the second human being after Armstrong to set foot on the moon while on the Apollo 11 mission and spent 19 hours on the surface of the moon !!!!

Incredible experience to meet him….

I have loved my life as an airline pilot and am now in my 32nd year flying for American Airlines and unfortunately only have another 19 months left before I reach my mandatory retirement age of 65. I am not looking forward to that last flight as an airline captain but will be requesting my last flight to be from Miami to Buenos Aires, Argentina on the B777-300. I will be having my wife Valeria ( who is from Argentina), my daughter Sophia and quite possible my sister Marianne from Denmark onboard and take the family and the crew out in Buenos Aires for a last celebration of this wonderful job before that last flight back to Miami in late August of 2019.

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Torben, 63    

 

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Life is really like a box of chocolate …

It has been a very difficult year. In February we lost my mother in-law suddenly, where after my oldest daughter Amy finally succeeded getting pregnant, after trying for over one…

It has been a very difficult year.

In February we lost my mother in-law suddenly, where after my oldest daughter Amy finally succeeded getting pregnant, after trying for over one year and again two weeks thereafter, my ex-husband was diagnosed with Stage four Terminal kidney cancer.

He died September 29th, the day after my birthday.

Three weeks later my first grandchild, Wyatt, was born.

I am now trying to help my daughters to the best that I possibly can. Amy is now 28 and she has taken one year leave from her teaching job in New Jersey to finish her Masters in Writing, and her little sister Christina, now 25, moved to California where she is fighting with her severe depression, while she is attending College. She wants to be able to help drug addicts and alcoholics.

I am tremendously proud of being their mother, even with the very difficult times they have both had to endure throughout their lives. When I divorced my ex-husband, who was an abusive alcoholic, he told me that he would make sure to make the rest of my life a living hell – and he sure did anything in his power to keep his promise.

And unfortunately both my daughters are the once that had to pay the price.

I also had to close my company, Scandinavian Home Decorators, because nobody could afford to hire business with their home improvements due to the financial crises that hit the USA in 2008.

Since 2009 I worked as a driver there after in a call center, where my hourly pay was only $13.00. I am currently working with my years of home improvement experience, as a maintenance technician and making $25.00 an hour, which now at least helps me pay all my bills on time, but not enough to save for retirement/vacation or a rainy day for a large bill.

So I am basically earning the same income as I had in Denmark as an intern.

Life is really like a box of chocolate …

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Mai-Britt, 53   

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