Heaven to my eyes, Bruises to my skin

The constant roar of the engine vibrated in my ears as I looked around at the rain soaked Kenyan hills and then suddenly there was silence. The engine abruptly cut out. It was as if we had just landed.

I looked in the rearview mirror searching for father’s eyes, searching for an answer for the strange silence in the air.

A look of panic filled his sunken eyes as I saw his hands desperately attempt to bring the plane to life.

“Engine down, I repeat — our engine is down!” He yelled across the radio frequency.

There was no time for him to switch on our personal frequency, no time for us to exchange words but I knew what was about to happen.

The plane made a dramatic turn as it dropped nose down the 1000 ft towards it’s end. I didn’t know if my father was steering or if we had lost all control.

I felt the weight of the plane as our helpless bodies plummeted downward. When the plane began to rapidly fall, I was sure I was going to die, and I had to instantly come to terms with that and be at peace with my realization. It was an eerie feeling to tell oneself that you are going to die but that everything was going to be okay.

“You are going to die” I muttered to myself as I touched my forehead then heart, then left chest, then right chest, an act that seemed fitting, despite holding no religious significance to me.

The further we fell, the clearer and deeper my words penetrated my body. You are going to die.

I understood this was the end and I had no say in the matter.

I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and tightened my seatbelt as our plane launched into the earth, catching a fence and flipping over.

“Bella, oh god, Bella!”

I opened my eyes to my father pulling me out from under the plane, my body hanging upside down next to the deformed wing.

He had thought I was dead, he said over and over as he hugged me, his eyes filled with wet tears.

The woman whose farm we had crashed into (and into whom we almost hit) appeared, hugging us, crying, and telling us we would live forever now that we had escaped death. Soon, two nearby farmers who had seen our plane coming down ran over. “Someone is looking out for you,” they said.

Within minutes it seemed as if the entire village surrounded our plane.

We are alive- how are we alive?

My brain raced as I searched for our satellite phone, pressing the emergency button that I never thought my fingers would touch.

Dad called mom in broken sobs explaining how he thought he had killed me and then told her to contact Sam and give him our coordinates.

The police arrived sometime after- I answered most of their questions, as dad was largely still in shock.

The reality of the situation did not sink in-

I immediately disassociated the crash from reality, only attempting to sooth father’s terror and deal with the hundreds of people that now gathered around our plane.

But something was clear, my father is a truly incredible pilot. He had saved our lives.

Within an hour and a half, Boris arrived in his helicopter to bring us to Nairobi, our intended destination.

We passed over our broken plane, our dead bird, and the mobs of people gathered around it.

Shock began to settle into my skin.

We had survived.

We lived.

The plane had crashed.

The engine had died,

But we lived.

And dad loves me more than I will ever know, because the sound of his sobs is a sound I can never un-hear.

I fear the night

I fear waking in the night to a vision of the crash

the sound of an engine cutting out

the feeling of a tremendous weight pulling me down

the feeling of no longer having any control over my life

letting myself go to chance

feeling the initial harsh crash

the jolt

the bang

the flip of the plane

hearing my father’s desperate cry

the sorrow

and fear

and utter shock in his voice as he pulls my body from under the mass of the plane

I fear waking to a nightmare where we do not survive

where the plane crushes my neck

and arms

and legs

where my father lays beside me in the rubble

unable to even cry out

I fear the villagers run to the plane ablaze

discovering us dead.

The people who ran to our plane showed me such unconditional love in a moment that could have been filled with utter pain and shock. These people were so beautiful in every way that something inside me knew I needed a visual record of the faces that had touched me so deeply. My hand trembling, I clicked away.

This photograph was taken by Beatrice De Smet