Dr Yvonne Kason and the plane crash onto the ice
Type of spiritual experience
A description of the experience
Opening Heaven's Door - Patricia Pearson
In January 1979, a young doctor named Yvonne Kason was traveling in a twin propeller plane, evacuating a critically ill Ojibwa woman with measles encephaiitis from a tiny, fly-in reserve to the nearest hospital, a few hundred miles away. Traveling with Kason was a nurse, Sally Irwin, and the pilot, Gerald Kruschenske, who was confident he could keep his twin-engine Piper Aztec on course even as the wind began to rise and snow swirled in from the west.
The passengers hunkered down, tense and cold, as the weather intensified into a blizzard.
Over the course of some horrifying moments, ice began to film the plane, and the right propeller blade faltered. Then the left propeller sputtered and stopped. The Piper began to lose altitude, and when it became apparent to the pilot that he couldn't clear a looming hilltop, he had no choice but to try to glide into a crash landing.
"l felt intense panic, intense fear," Kason told me thirty years later. "l thought, 'Oh my God, I'm going to die.' But it came out fast; it was like a death prayer, ohmyGodl'mgonnadie- this call from my soul for help."
Immediately, to her immense and lasting surprise, she felt a wave of tranquility descending, washing out the terror, which receded to leave only peace.
"My mind became calm, and I was no longer afraid, and I was alert, and conscious like I am right now." Perhaps a second or two had elapsed, no more. Then, again to her astonishment, she heard a voice. "Be still," it said, "and know that I am God."…………..
In a rushing matter of seconds, wind howling and plane tumbling, Kason felt herself to be in an altered state of consciousness. "I was not thinking or judging or analyzing, the way one normally does." Nor was she numb, or in denial; it was "the sort of peace one gets in meditation," she explained. "You're in what they call a 'higher mind' state, which is intuitive and receptive.
I was watching the plane crash, and the nurse and I were bracing the patient, and I felt profoundly peaceful and calm. I knew there was nothing to be afraid of. I just knew it in my soul. Even if we were going to die. And I started comforting the patient, 'cause she had woken up and her eyes were looking at me, as the doctor, and I was able to now speak to her and transmit the sense of comfort. I just kept saying, 'it will be okay, it's going to be okay.'”
"I knew with absolute certainty something I had never known before: that there is absolutely nothing to fear in death."
Kason resumed her recollection, of descending to a partially frozen bay on the Ontario side of the border in an area called the Lake of the woods. "The pilot, really heroically, tried to do a guided crash landing on the ice," she said. "He almost did it, but the ice was so thin that as soon as the plane stopped, it broke through and sank. We had to quickly try and get out, and I was trying to get the patient out, but I couldn't [undo the straps]." The cargo door, through which her stretcher had entered the plane, was soon submerged. Unable to extricate her, the surviving three fell quickly into the water.
Weighted down by winter gear, they gazed helplessly as the stretcher-bound patient was lost with the Piper.
The voice took charge of Kason once more. "This voice started repeating, 'Swim to shore.' I actually argued with it, because I had taken lifeguarding, and they always tell you, in a boating accident, don't try to head for the shore. It will be farther away than it looks. I tried to ignore the voice, and get on the ice. But every time we put any weight on it, the ice would break off. And when you're cold and wet you get tired really fast. My parka and boots were like lead, dragging me into the lake. So I surrendered to the voice, because what I was doing wasn't working, and I started swimming to shore. It was really, really difficult. I didn't think I was going to make it. I kept going under, and the water filled my lungs.
Somewhere in that life-and-death struggle is when my consciousness suddenly whooshed"-she gestured with her hands, sweeping them up either side of her head-"and it was like I was no longer looking out of my eyes. I was twenty or thirty feet up, and I could see myself swimming." She gazed down at her dining room table, as if still amazed.
"This, to me, was very bizarre, because I'd heard descriptions of people going out of body when they were lying down, but not when they were swimming!"
She looked up at me and laughed. "l puzzled over it for years."………….
For about an hour after the plane went down in the Lake of the Woods, Kason found herself suspended between the earthbound and the ethereal, with part of her awareness engaged with the effort to keep swimming, in the iron grip of ice water, while the blizzard blurred her sight, and part of her awareness shifted to what seemed to her an infinitely beguiling light. It was as if the day were morphing in some impossible way, all at once storm and radiant sun.
She found herself encompassed and somehow absorbed in the light. She could feel the pain being inflicted by the cold, which an endorphin rush would have blocked. The light was well beyond anything she had ever encountered in her life.
"The experience - it was formless."
"It was like dissolving into the light." She considered that description for a moment. "Yes, that's it. It was like dissolving. I was like a drop of water, which had now merged into the sea of light. I still existed, it was still me, but I was in this incredible ocean of light and love."
"The strongest aspect for me was the love. Perfect love. It's impossible to describe."
“It was a maternal love. Like I was a new born baby on my mother’s shoulder, utterly safe”……..
“It was like I’d been lost for centuries and I’d found my way home”…………
“It was like that, there were many facets to it. The light, the love, the higher power. There was no question that I was . . . sort of embraced by a higher power. In that love, and in that light and in that intelligence, I just knew that [whatever happened] was meant to be. . . . I was in complete joy, complete love, complete contentment”……………….
“lt was sort of like a split-screen TV is the best I can describe it. …..The big picture was the light and the little tiny picture was the body swimming to shore, and the light was far more interesting."
"I still knew my body was there, but my awareness shifted to the light. At a certain point, as my body was sinking, I shifted more of my attention to it. I remember, because I was so calm, thinking, 'Oh, yes, so you do drown the third time you go down."'
Switching back into the perspective of her floundering physical form, Kason saw with her eyes at lake level that the current was carrying her swiftly toward a fallen pine tree by the shore.
If she could angle herself with two more swim strokes, the current would-and did-deliver her to the tree.
'And that's how I survived, because I did not have the strength to swim the last few feet to shore."
The current carried her.
For another thirty minutes, Kason and her pilot, Gerry Kruschenske, languished on the edge of the lake at Devil's Elbow while the nurse, Sally lrwin, remained alive but in the water, clinging to driftwood. Their SOS signal had been caught by an overhead jet, whose pilots relayed it to the nearby town of Kenora. A complicated and heroic helicopter rescue ensued, which won the two helicopter pilots awards for valour and became the focus of media coverage. Kason kept her spiritual experience private. By the time they reached the hospital, Kason was slipping in and out of consciousness, and continued hovering above her body, severely hypothermic.
The emergency room nurses covered her, at first, in a light blanket. Abruptly, she told me, "my body spoke. This is without me planning to speak. It said, 'Boy, could I use a hot bath.' Clearly, it was something higher speaking through my mouth, telling them what to do. How did my body speak this when I was not even thinking it?"
Kason had no training in the treatment of hypothermia. "The nurses said, gee, maybe that would help; let's take them to the whirlpool in physio. When they put me in the bath, I felt like a genie being sucked back into a bottle.
Suddenly, I'm fully back. It was like finding out the end of the story, because I didn't know how it would end until then