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Lake Michigan claims another life

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Late Monday night one of my nightmares came true but someone else lived it. Jonathan Leber’s single engine plane crashed in the icy waters of Lake Michigan and the poor soul was never found. A feeling of horror nestled in my heart and an evil voice whispered in my ears that my fear of a watery grave isn’t really that far fetched.

Having flown over large bodies of water – seas, oceans and this gigantic beauty of fresh water called Lake Michigan I have always felt twinges of unease. Looking down at the vast body of water through the tiny window of the plane I’ve always remembered movies like Jaws, Airport, Anaconda, shipwreck movies, crocodiles infesting friendly lakes etc

It is a pattern that I would re-live even when dipping into the swimming pool. I have an aversion to the deep end of the pool and would stay at the shallow end with little kiddies paddling around me. A number of times I’ve got looks from these little tadpoles clearly saying – Aren’t ya too old to wallow like a buffalo on our side of the pool? Clearly, they don’t like an adult invading their territory.

Jacuzzis make me breathless and what’s even more shameful is that I have trouble under the shower. But it gets worse when it is time to use hair conditioner. The water here is kind of hard and while I’m trying to rinse off the conditioner under the spray of water the thoughts that run in my mind are simplistic in nature- breathe, don’t forget to breathe.

Am I a step away from being hydrophobic? I do not know. A believer in after-lives once suggested that I may have had a water related death in my previous life, another new age believer would have me go under hypnosis to get to the root cause of my fear and yet another- a swimming coach would rather I just jumped off a board into the deep end of the pool and swam my way back to the shallow end.

Humor aside, I wasn’t really thinking about my fear of water but the feeling of hope that the young man had clung to when he had decided to swim for the shore. I wondered what his last thoughts were before the lake closed her arms around him in an icy embrace and pulled him down.

I felt sad that he died alone and hoped that he was able to find some comfort in his faith. Was this the ultimate acid test of his faith? I do not know. Some might see it that way as he was planning to be a missionary. But, to think that he had finally come to rest in the arms of his maker is cold comfort to those who loved him and grieve for a young life so ruthlessly cut short.

Death will blanket us in its shroud sooner or later, none of us can escape this hard truth and despite knowing this inescapable reality we are unable to detach ourselves from its grim arrival when it takes away our loved ones, our acquaintances or even extends it’s non-negotiable invitation to us personally.

Or is death just another way of making us realize how transient our lives are? Maybe tragedies such as these make us hold our loved ones a little tighter for the moment before the amnesia of daily life engulfs us and makes us feel immortal.

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About Deepti Lamba

  • Jonathan Leber was one of my classmates and his family, friends, and classmates were all deeply saddened by this tragedy.

    However we do find great hope that Jonathan is in the arms of His creator, a creator who is not “cold,” but loving beyond any earthly thought.

    Jonathan always had as his number one goal that God and the Lord Jesus Christ be glorified in everything that he did.

    I miss Jonathan, but I am happy that he finally reached His goal. You see Jonathan’s death was not the ending of a life, but merely the beginning. Even now through Jonathan’s death the name of the Lord is being lifted up and exalted.

    As one left behind in this tragedy, I find hope in thinking of those last moments of Jonathan’s life, knowing that the instant Jonathan left this life He was welcomed by Christ in eternity.

  • Kip

    I want to extend my sincere sympathies to the friends and family of Jonathan Leber, the 20-year old pilot who disappeared Monday night after ditching his single engine plane in Lake Michigan eight miles off the Milwaukee shoreline.

    Regardless of the accident’s cause, the loss of such a young and promising life is an unspeakable tragedy, and I genuinely feel for everyone affected.

    My sentiments, however, are tempered by the fact that this was an ultimately preventable accident — one caused primarily, by overconfidence, lack of foresight and careless disregard for accepted flight standards.

    As a pilot of 26 years standing, I feel qualified to make the following observations:

    While Jonathan Leber was legally entitled to do so, a 20-year old kid with a recently-minted private pilot’s license and a total 150 hours in his log book probably shouldn’t have been attempting such long cross-country trips alone.

    More to the point, he had no business, whatever, attempting to overfly the vast waters of Lake Michigan alone at night in a single engine Piper without sufficient fuel reserves and flotation gear aboard.

    Doing so viloates key sections of the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs) and constitutes a gamble that even seasoned pilots are unwilling to take.

    A classmate of Mr. Leber’s emailed me yesterday that her buddy, “Ace,” had flown the same over-water route on other occasions, all without incident.

    Yeah, well, I don’t imagine his past successful lake crossings were on Mr. Leber’s mind while he sat atop his fast-foundering aircraft Monday night, miles from shore, surrounded by inky blackness and bone-chilling water with no reasonable hope of rescue.

    What he was probably thinking — and rightly so — was “How could I have been so incredibly stupid?”

    I don’t mean to be insensitive here, but I do mean to be brutally honest; this accident did not need to happen. It was the result of carelessness and a sense of false security that often overtakes pilots, young and old.

    I’ve seen it before. “Nothing can go wrong. An accident can’t possibly happen to me.” Pilots who answer that siren’s song are often the very ones who wind up as fatality statistics.

    I’m reminded of a sign that hung in my own flight instructor’s office all those years ago. It made a big impression on me and read something to the effect that “Aviation is inherently safe, but, the air, to a greater extent than the sea is terribly unforgiving of any negligence, oversight, or failure to plan.”

    I sure wish Jonathan Leber had seen that sign.

  • Kip,thanks for sharing your insightful views on this subject. It was a rather foolhardy adventure and the young man had to pay with his life because of one careless mistake. It definately was a tragedy that could have been avoided.

  • Alyssa Ysalde

    I pray that the Lord will comfort the Leber family in this trying time in their lives.Lately I’ve read so much about him,he was a great young man.His life was not wasted,I pray the result of this would be many souls saved. All my condolences.Matt 5:4 Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted.
    Sincerely in Christ,
    Alyssa Ysalde

  • Elizabeth Maciorowski

    I also was a classmate of “Ace”, and was devastated by his death.
    To us humans, his death was “untimely” and end that came to his life way too early. But in God’s eyes, his departure from this world was right on time. God promises us in His word (the Bible)that He knows all the plans He has for us, and nothing can or will happen without his approval. There was a reason for Ace’s crash landing in the cold waters in April, and as sad as it is to think that Ace died a cold lonesome death, he was never actually alone. God promises to never leave us, ever.
    Why he died so young we’ll never know here on earth. Ace’s death touched me as well as ALL the 900 students at Maranatha Baptist Bible College, to take another look at our lives, and re-dedicate them more entirely to God. I envy the fact that as soon as he closed his eyes after struggling so hard to survive in the icy waters, he opened them seconds later, as saw his Creator.
    I look forward to seeing Ace again, soon.