Nairobi Heartbreak

I had shut the kerosene flow to the lanterns and, as typical on a Bukuria Mission night, we had fallen asleep by 11:00 p.m. and for an hour all was quiet. That changed.

Ann’s bursting cry of pain shocked me awake.

“Honey, what’s wrong, what is it?”

My dear wife, young and lovely – missionary mom to our toddler and our three-month infant – had bolted upright, seizing her midsection. The pain was searing. A few frightening moments and the surge of torture eased.

In a previous week Ann had already had a flare-up – similar to this, but not nearly so severe.

Soon as arrangements were made, our little foursome found our way out of Kuria-land, bound once more for Nairobi. Ann’s doctor in the capital had determined an inflamed gall bladder had likely been the culprit shooting torment through her abdomen.

Wearied by the trip of trailing behind smoke-belching buses and lorries at varying intervals along the two-lane road of the Great Rift Valley, we thankfully arrived at Mennonite Guest House. Ann would be admitted for surgery next morning. A day we would never forget.

November 20, 1974. As the hour-hand of the Nairobi hospital clock struck eight a.m. a Lufthansa 747 Jumbo Jet just 16 kilometers away, sped along a takeoff runway. The flight was to be the final segment of its Frankfurt – Nairobi – Johannesburg route.  Seconds later, barely airborne, the aircraft dropped to earth. It’s tail broke apart. Fire spread to the fuselage when the left wing exploded.

A tragic day in aviation history for the East Africa nation. No airplane mishap in Kenya has brought more fatalities. Fifty-nine of the 157 passengers and crew died, many others suffering injuries, some with severe burns. It was the first-ever 747 crash resulting in lives lost. The cause, insufficient air lift due to mechanical issues.

“We will reschedule you, Mrs. Lout, once we learn more. At present, our staff are on alert for arriving casualties.”

Remarkably, my wife was called in for her surgery the following morning. After the gall-bladder removal she was granted permission to have her nursing son join her in the private room.

Our prayers these days carried a range of emotion. Heaviness for the bereaved and the injured of Flt 540, relief and thankfulness our family could journey again soon. Back to our upcountry home.

©2017 Jerry Lout

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