Crashing into the Mission Field

God Delivers Neal from Three Plane Accidents

by Neal Brinneman and Carol Brinneman

My husband Neal learned to fly while serving in the army, then crashed his way into the mission field.

In the early 60’s Neal bought a Taylorcraft and flew west with his brother Rex. In Cody, Wyoming, they gassed up the plane and were planning on landing in Yellowstone, 200 miles away. With only a small 12-gallon tank, they took the most direct route instead of following the highway through a pass.

Climbing out of Cody, they headed towards a valley between two mountains, but then the valley started climbing too! Approaching the maximum altitude of the plane at 9,500 feet, they found themselves flying closer and closer to the ground. Turning back, headed the plane inevitably into the mountainside. They banged down through the trees, the wings taking the brunt of the force, and went nose first into the ground. Neal turned off the ignition and they exited the plane as quickly as possible since gas was dripping onto the hot motor. When nothing caught fire, they got out their suitcases and started down the trail. Neither was seriously hurt.

Returning to Michigan, Neal bought a Piper Vagabond. This model had an 85 HP engine and cruising speed of 102 MPH, an improvement over the Taylorcraft at 65 HP and 92 MPH. The next winter he was flying from Indiana to Michigan when freezing rain iced up the plane. It kept getting heavier and heavier until he could not keep it in the air at full throttle. He was forced to drop into a small cow pasture, skidding sideways, the propeller catching on a fence and throwing the tail up onto the fence too.

The next spring, Neal waited for a windy day to fly the same plane to a nearby town to get gas. He hoped the wind would get him there quickly and that he would not run out of gas. As he landed at the airport, the motor died, a common occurrence with that plane. He jumped out, restarted it, and got back in to taxi to the hangar, forgetting to attach his seatbelt. He could not get the tail to come around into the wind so he accelerated to forcefully flip it around. As he did that, the outer wing started flying. He then gunned the motor to keep from falling back onto the ground. His plan was to fly out and land again. It turned out that the wing had been lifted by a mere gust of wind. After he accelerated and ascended a bit, the gust died and the plane stalled, dropping out of the sky nose first and falling onto its back. Neal banged his head on the roof, but suffered no injury.

He went to get the airport manager to help turn the plane over on its wheels and roll it up to the hangar. The manager said that was the first time he had ever seen a plane of that type make a “wheels up landing.” The plane was ruined.

This is definitely not the story of a frustrated wannabe mission pilot! The planes had only provided some weekend fun for a confirmed bachelor-math-teacher. But the third wreck got Neal’s attention. He had been called to serve in missions years before, but just hadn’t gotten around to obeying God. He said, “I felt God had protected my life in spite of my foolishness, and so he must have something for me to do. I went straight to the mission headquarters of the United Brethren in Christ and told them I was ready to go. They sent me to Sierra Leone as a teacher-principal of a high school.” Four years later, Neal joined Wycliffe and in 1972 left for Togo as a Bible translator at the ripe age of thirty-seven.

Seven years later, he gave up bachelorhood and planes forever when he married me in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire. I’m glad my husband is not a missionary pilot, aren’t you?

August 11, 2002