It was supposed to be just a flight training session with a series of ‘touch and go’ landings at a small airport in New Jersey. The flight instructor John Eberle climbed into the cockpit with Mark Sorey the student pilot and owner of the Piper Arrow 28. The two seat, single-engine plane N2759M was flying along the mile wide Hudson River when the engine failed.

Instructor Eberle quickly took over the controls and Sorey radioed a ‘Mayday’ emergency call at 11:37a.m. As the plane lost altitude they didn’t have many options. Dense woods to the right of the river and a highly populated residential area on the left. Directly below was the frigid water of the Hudson River. The instructor chose the latter. For eleven minutes the plane glided, losing altitude and finally sunk to the bottom of the river at 11:48 a.m.

Mr. Sorey grabbed one of the flotation seats floating in the water and Mr. Eberle 100 yards away tread water.

Fortunately the Mayday call was picked up by a Delta Airlines pilot and the wheels of the rescue service were set in motion. Helicopters and boats were dispatched to the scene.

Rescuers leaped from a hovering helicopter into the cold river and came along side of the desperate men. Rescuers said both men appeared to be nearly exhausted and at the point of giving up. Mr. Eberle was moving his arms and trying to stay afloat. “ When I swam to him, he didn’t try to grab me. He didn’t try to hold on to me,” Officer Devine said. “Normally, that’s what people do. So I knew he was in bad condition at that point.” Officer Mortimer, one of the rescuers said: “He was almost at the point of unconsciousness.” The officers put on a bright orange flotation collar around Mr. Eberle as a large wire basket descended from a helicopter. “When we put him in the basket, he didn’t try to hold on,” Officer Devine said. (1)

Minutes later, a hundred yards away, Mr. Sorey was pulled to safety as well. Both men were listed in fair condition at a nearby hospital as they recovered from hypothermia.

Their helpless circumstances reminded me of the helpless situation of sinners. Not one of us has any ability to save ourselves. Left on our own, we will perish in the frigid waters of sin. People try so hard to rescue themselves in an effort to eventually make it to safety in Heaven. They grab the flotation devices of church, religion and good deeds. They try treading water by reducing their curse words, or cleaning up their dirty thought-life, or showing more kindness to people. But the reality is according to the Bible – with all their efforts they can’t make it.

By the works (deeds) of the Law there shall NO flesh be justified in HIS sight.” Romans 3:20. We might seem to be right in our own eyes – but our own works can never make us right in God’s sight.

The pilots rescued from the Hudson River had NO strength to grab or grasp or even hold on to the rescuers. All their strength was gone. They had to rely 100% on the rescuers.

The Bible says: “For when we were yet without strength, in due time, Christ died for the ungodly.” Romans 5:6. I had no strength to save myself. I relied 100% on the Rescuer from Heaven. The Saviour of Sinners. He died for my sins. He did it all for me. I am not holding on to Him – He rescued me and I am safe in His arms. He holds me. He keeps me. I am going to Heaven because He did it all for me.

(1) New York Times, Two Men in Small Plane Are Saved After Crash, Robert McFadden, 03 January, 2006