Author: Captain Dale Black, with Ken Gire
Publisher: Bethany House, May 2010
The title and book blurb attracted me to this true story by Captain Dale Black. In it he tells of the airplane accident that almost took his life at age 19.
At first his memory of the accident and its aftermath were almost nonexistent. But as his battered body healed, so did his head and brain. With that healing, recall of the terrifying moments just before impact were soon joined by the memory of an out-of-body experience.
Though he had no actual recall of that experience until much later, when he woke from a three-day coma, he did know he was changed in a deep way. This is how he tells it:
"The nurse looked at me, studying the reactions in my good eye. "Hello, Dale," she said. "How do you feel? Can you hear me?"
This is hard to explain, but I felt an immediate and overwhelming love for this woman. It wasn't romantic. Nothing like that. It was deeper than that, purer. I wanted to talk with her, to thank her for helping me, but I couldn't. Most of all, I wanted to encourage her by telling her just how much God loved her...
That's how I was seeing this nurse. I had never met her, didn't even know her name. It was not a human love, I was sure of that. It was God's love. I felt as if I were a vessel through which His love was flowing. Does she know Jesus?..." p. 38
What sets Black's heavenly encounter story apart from many others is the fact that he decided (after telling his grandfather and on his grandfather's advice) to never speak of it until he felt sure God wanted him to. Thus he lived for years telling no one, not even his wife, what he had seen.
However, when he did finally know that the time was right to go public, his wife of almost forty years was not that shocked. In many ways it explained why he was the way he was. She says in a chapter near the end of the book:
"Dale's values and priorities completely changed after the airplane crash... He is sensitive toward and strongly drawn to relationships where there is unity and love at the core.... He studies the Bible from his heart rather than his head and knows it intimately.... He has a quest to understand order in science, but only to understand more about God. He is fascinated with light and the properties of light as well as space and astronomy....Without question Dale has been profoundly and permanently affected by his visit to heaven." p. 184.
Black begins the book with a tense incident from his adult life but then goes back in time and tells the story chronologically. I was struck by this young man's determination to achieve his dream, and his faith that he would recover physically in all the ways necessary for him to become a pilot. A few black and white photos anchor the narrative in time and give faces to the characters.
Black's account of heaven is uncannily similar to biblical accounts. The way his encounter with the divine impacted his life even before he could recall it and continues to exert its influence, testifies to its authenticity.
I found the book a quick and compelling read. Black says in the introduction that it took years to write and went through many drafts and edits. Perhaps that's why it slips down so effortlessly — because it's been combed and re-combed until every tangle and snag has been smoothed out.
Black's story made me aware of how much I live in a world of superficialities, and wonder how I would change if I experienced what Black did. I took from it not only the sense that Dale Black is an incredible man but that God is good, faithful, loving, and about His business. In Black's case that involved a preview of eternity. I'm so glad he felt at liberty to tell us about it.
Article first published as Book Review: Flight to Heaven: A Pilot's True Story by Captain Dale Black with Ken Gire on Blogcritics.