A father and daughter who survived a plane crash last year have returned to their church for the first time since the accident, giving their testimony before the congregation and meeting the first responders who rescued them.
Pennsylvania pilot Christopher White, 58, and his 13-year-old daughter Angela were involved in a plane crash last November during a snowstorm while on a recreational flight around the Poconos.
The Cessna 150 crash in Luzerne County resulted in severe injuries for both, including a shattered spine for the daughter and broken bones for the father.
The White family gave their testimonies on Sunday before the congregation of Christian Life Assembly near Stroudsburg, with Christopher White saying that it was a miracle from the Lord that they survived.
“Most pilots get into that, and they get confused, they get twisted upside down, and it’s fatal. … I flew into the snowstorm, and I was like ‘wow, I’m snow-blinded,’ and my instant reaction was not panic, but I shut off the landing lights because they were shining lights into the snow,” he recounted.
“I focused on the attitude indicator, which is what we are trained to do, and I saw that the plane was level. And honestly, I don’t know what happened. I could have probably flown out of it, but I don’t know what else happened. The next thing I remember is [being] crushed in this airplane, dead silent and cold.”
Christopher White recalled blacking out a few times after the plane crashed. Then, he woke up to a light flashing in his face from the rescue crew. He said he blacked out again as he was stretchered to an ambulance.
He suffered several broken bones, a concussion and other injuries.
“God saved my life,” Christopher White said. “The way the plane crashed, the way the branches from the trees grabbed the airplane, the wings got folded back from the energy and they absorbed the speed of the airplane.”
“If you ever see a head-on collision with a car, this front end is smashed in. The plane’s nose was not smashed in. Had that happened, we would be having a funeral, and we would be looking down from above. … But this is rejoicing.”
Diagnosed with Down syndrome, Angela White, is known for being an outdoorsy teenager who waterskied and cycled. She suffered a right-side skull fracture, second-degree burns due to severe frostbite, and shattered vertebrae. Her injuries have resulted in her developing scoliosis. Her chances of walking again are unlikely.
The plane crashed in the middle of state game lands in Bear Creek Township among the woods, swamps, hills, rocks and boulders in frigid weather.
Not knowing if anyone would rescue them, the Whites endured temperatures around 20 degrees Fahrenheit for hours, according to local news outlet WBRE.
Search crews eventually found the two after tracking their iPad, according to Sharon White, the mother and wife of the survivors.
After being rescued, the two received medical attention. Angela White was treated for her burns in a hospital, and medical professionals surgically removed her shattered vertebrae and replaced them with a cage.
“As soon as we thought something was wrong, the word went out and the prayer went out,” said Sharon White.
On the night of the crash, the mother, who’s served as a teacher for 25 years, said that even before she knew that the two had crashed, she was unexpectedly having trouble concentrating on preparing her class lessons. She began to worship God in response.
“[One Christian song] says: ‘I speak Jesus over my family, over the darkness, over every enemy,’” Sharon White said. “And I’m singing and worshiping, and the plane is going down, and I had no idea.”
Around 9 p.m. that night, when the father and daughter still had not returned home, Sharon White remembers sending her husband a text message, but he did not respond.
The mother assumed that her husband’s cell phone had died and she continued to wait for a response that never came. She said that by 9:30 p.m., she recalled thinking that something must be wrong. At that point, she called the police.
“Jesus hears and He is actively involved when you call on His name … There is power in the name of Jesus — not just for special situations,” Sharon White said.
The rescue team that saved Angela and Christopher White attended the church service. They joined the family on stage to share their thoughts on the ordeal.
“This is a huge event for us. … My whole team didn’t give up. They kept searching. They would not give up until we found them,” said Chief James Serafin of the Bear Creek Volunteer Hose Company, who helped coordinate the search and rescue.
“I’m very proud of that. And we can proudly see them sitting here today.”
Floyd Young, a firefighter and paramedic affiliated with Bear Creek Fire Rescue, said he was thrilled to see the Whites again.
“I now know why they lived with people like you praying for them,” Young said to the church crowd.
Sgt. John G. Richards, a trooper for the Pennsylvania State Police who assisted with the rescue, said: “I didn’t find them. God found them.”
“Those two are the face of this accident. They deserve the credit. They kept each other alive that night,” Richards told the church.
Richards said that where the plane had crashed, he did not think that he and the rescue team would have found the two survivors until the next day.
Richards recalled telling the members of the fire department to “take your crews and go home.” However, the members of the fire department refused to stop the search.
Craig Johnson, the church’s head pastor, expressed gratitude to the rescue crew.
“You guys are God’s hands and feet extended. You go to places that no one else can get to and you’re with people at some of the lowest points and the most tragic points, and I just want you to know that we will cover you in prayer and we are so thankful for you guys,” he said.
Johnson announced that on March 19, he and his team will work to tear off the backside of the White’s house to expand it by adding 12 feet by 48 feet, to create a more handicap-accessible home.
“I’m praying two things over this: that we bless the White family, that they feel every time they walk in their house, they know they got a church family and they got a community that loves [them]. And we know God is going to continue to do great things in and through this story,” Johnson said.
A GoFundMe account established to help support Angela White's medical bills has raised over $27,000.