I should have been killed in a plane crash on January 22, 1971. I was flying a Navy T-28 Trojan aircraft on a training mission as an instructor. The weather was horrible; a storm was moving up into the area from the Gulf of Mexico.

All aircraft were recalled to land except me. I was ordered to complete my 2.6-hour flight as I graded my two students flying solo in close formation. We completed the flight and were ready to land just as the storm reached the field from the south. We couldn’t get in, so the controller instructed me to see if we could beat the storm by flying around and entering the field from the north.

As we approached from the north, I could see that if we made it, it was going to be very close. I increased my airspeed to rapidly get into position with my two students, but they suddenly disappeared into a cloudbank. I lost sight of them at a 40-knot closure rate, and I was directly behind the two aircraft and at the same altitude. I radioed the lead student and asked if he could still see the ground.

“Barely, Sir,” he replied as I flew into a complete whiteout.

I had less than ten seconds to react or I knew I would hit them. I closed my throttle, activated my speed brake, and hung a hard left turn to avoid the collision. As I was doing this, I continued talking to the students, instructing them to make an immediate right turn and telling them what they needed to do to get out of the storm.

With zero visibility, power off, speed brake down, and in a high angle of bank left turn, I was completely out of balanced flight. I lost control of the airplane. My left turn and instruction for the students to turn right had avoided the collision, but my problems were not over.

My actions and instructions saved the students—when I had them turn right, they flew out of the storm to safety, but I had turned directly into the worst part of it. I experienced a pilot’s worst nightmare, vertigo.

Vertigo is a temporary spatial disorientation during which you completely lose your bearings. The senses give wrong information to the brain, and you cannot tell up from down. It is utter confusion, to put it mildly. I could not read the instruments and couldn’t see outside the cockpit.

By this time, I had retracted my speed brake, but everything I did only accelerated my descent. My altimeter spun closer and closer to zero. I tried everything to stop my descent, but nothing worked. I knew I had to bail out, but just before I initiated bailout procedures, I glanced at the altimeter and saw that I was already below 1,000 feet. My parachute would not open before I hit the ground. I would have to stay in the airplane, struggling to gain control, until I hit the ground. And that was literally a few seconds away.

I pressed my ICS (intercockpit system) button, which is normally used to communicate with a pilot in the rear seat, and I prayed out loud. I said in a loud clear voice, “God, help me!” I know He would have heard me without the ICS, but I think I just wanted to hear the prayer myself. With the engine noise in the T-28, you can’t hear without a microphone and headset.

God’s answer came instantly.

It was like He raised a shade and instantly closed it—but in that split second, I saw the ground directly out the left side of the cockpit and real close to me.

That moment of clarity instantly cured my vertigo, and I knew I was in a 90-degree left turn with my wing vertical to the ground. I rolled right, and as I did, I was able to read my instruments. I was still in a complete whiteout, but the vertigo was gone.

Praise the Lord for answering that three-word prayer!

It took several seconds for the aircraft to respond, and I watched as my altimeter passed 500 feet, then 400 feet, still descending. It finally leveled off at 300 feet above the ground and began to climb. The nightmare was over—I had control of the aircraft and was climbing.