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.
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…
Photo: Nicky Bonne