Scutniks


One of the worst snowstorms to hit Washington, D.C. in decades buffeted the city on January 13, 1982. Storm conditions delayed the departure of Air Florida Flight 90 by an hour and forty-five minutes. When the Boeing 737 took off from Washington National Airport, it was unable to stay aloft and crashed into the 14th Street Bridge, which spans the Potomac River, just two minutes after leaving the runway. The plane vanished into the river except for the tail section, which had separated from the body of the aircraft and floated. When emergency services arrived, they discovered 5 passengers and one flight attendant had survived the crash, and they were clinging to the tail section in the icy waters.

The waters of the Potomac were extremely cold, just one degree above freezing. A person can only manage to stay alive in this frigid water for about 30 minutes. Rescuers were frantically trying to get to the surviving passengers as quickly as possible. When their inflatable boats could not navigate through the ice-filled waters, a U.S. Park Police Helicopter Unit was called. Many onlookers, including a television news camera man, witnessed the amazing rescue efforts of pilot Don Usher and paramedic Gene Windsor.

After successfully retrieving a passenger (Bert Hamilton) and the flight attendant (Kelly Duncan), Usher and Windsor went back and lowered two lifelines from the helicopter to the remaining surviving passengers. One of the passengers, Arland D. Williams, Jr., caught one of the lines and passed it on to Joe Stiley, the most severely injured survivor. Stiley slipped the line around his waist and grabbed Priscilla Tirado, who was hysterical, having lost her husband and baby. Nikki Felch took the second line. As they were being dragged to shore, Tirado and Felch lost their grip and fell back into the water. Felch was wearing a lifejacket, so Tirado became the immediate priority of the rescue efforts.

Tirado was slashing in the icy water, eyes wide and wild-looking; she was going into shock. After several attempts, she was unable to cling to the life-ring that was lowered to her. By this time, she was traumatized, exhausted, and temporarily blinded from aviation fuel. She began to drown.

Martin “Lennie” Scutnik, a low-level manager at the U.S. Congressional Budget office, was observing the situation. At this point, he decided that he could watch no more. “I absolutely thought she was going to die if I didn’t go in and get her.” Scutnik removed his coat and boots and jumped into the icy waters, swam out to Tirado, and dragged her to safety.

Nikki Felch was rescued by the helicopter unit. Unfortunately, when the unit went back to rescue Arland D. Williams, he could not be found. He, along with the tail of the jet, had sunk beneath the waters. (See A Heroic Sacrifice, Living Water, 9/15/06).

Less than a month later, President Ronald Reagan invited Lennie Scutnik to attend the 1982 State of the Union Address, where he was seated next to the First Lady. When President Reagan recognized Scutnik, he received a long standing ovation. Heroes like Scutnik are now celebrated at nearly every State of the Union Address. The Washington Press Corps often refers to them as ‘Scutniks’.

The selflessness and sacrifice of the “Scutniks” provide a glimpse of the Greatest Hero of all: JESUS CHRIST.

When WE were “drowning” in sin and doomed to eternal destruction, God sent His Son Jesus to rescue us. Jesus gave His life so that we might have forgiveness of our sins and so that we “should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16; Ephesians 1:7).

Jesus will save those who cling to the Lifeline (Jesus Himself) by.... placing their faith and trust in Him (Acts 16:30-31), turning from their sins in repentance (Acts 17:30-31), confessing Jesus before men (Romans 10:9-10), and being baptized (immersed) into Christ for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38). He will continue to cleanse those who continue to trust Him and follow Him as a way of life (1 John 1:7).

Won’t YOU cling to the Lifeline through your trusting obedience?

David A. Sargent

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