Run Ways

“I didn’t want to die. I just wanted the pain to go away. I’m sorry for leaving you all to deal with the consequences of my decision”. – Braden

“I still cry like a baby when I think about losing Pam.  I wish it didn’t hurt, but after all these years, I admit that it always will.  I know that’s not comforting , but it becomes more bearable. Moving on with purpose makes it better. Maybe my testimony might help another young person in a similar place”. -Braden’s Uncle Randy


Preface

Readers: This is a painful story particularly for it’s main character, but he has courageously allowed his story to be shared to possibly speak into the life of someone in need. By publicly journaling, our intent remains to be transparent about teen depression and suicide. We are beyond grateful for many understanding friends walking alongside us who care enough to stay. Even when it’s uncomfortable.


Wikipedia Version

“TWA Flight 427 was a regularly scheduled TWA passenger flight departing Lambert-St. Louis International Airport in Bridgeton, Missouri on November 22, 1994, operated using a McDonnell Douglas MD-82. On the takeoff roll it struck a Cessna 441 Conquest II, killing both of its occupants. It was the second of two flights numbered 427 that would be involved in an incident that year, the other being USAir Flight 427, which crashed in September near Pittsburgh, PA killing all 132 on board.

Eyewitness Version

Thanksgiving week, 1994. TWA’s most junior pilot was appointed to take the routine Denver leg on a late night flight. However, this would not be a routine flight.  As the passenger carrier accelerated to full throttle, the crew spotted an unlit private plane sitting on the commercial liner’s designated runway.

The pilot on the jumpseat yelled “That’s an airplane!” The junior pilot veered hard left, throttling back, applying reverse engines and brakes. He remained mindful from his training that an over-reaction could mean turning the aircraft onto its side. However, bearing straight ahead would certainly cost the lives of anyone aboard the private Cessna. The young pilot’s gut instincts and hundreds of simulation training hours kicked in: “Just keep your bearings… remain calm… Steer THROUGH it all the way to the end”. 

The MD-82’s right wing sheared the top of the stray private plane and the aircraft skidded to rest 300 yards beyond the initial impact. The crew could hear the screams of horrified passengers. Still, they’d been trained to act quickly, calmly, and professionally under duress.

Tower, this is 427. Repeat, Four-Two-Seven. Are we on fire?… Tower…. Tower…. Repeat: Are we on fire?”

With no response, the captain made the difficult decision to evacuate the aircraft so as to ensure the safety of his passengers.  After numerous distress calls and without confirmation from the tower that they were not on fire, he did the unthinkable. The captain left the ship to rule out any flames. A single spark would be catastrophic.

The captain turned the lever on the cabin front cabin door, triggering the escape slide. He jumped onto it, and dropped directly into a river of jet fuel. He then turned to the junior pilot with instructions that whatever he did, don’t let them use this exit. First Officer, Speed had all passengers exit through the tiny forward right side galley door. There was no safer way out.

142 passengers and flight crew safely escaped onto the tarmac, moving to a safe distance. Not one person was injured on the TWA aircraft, but tragically the two occupants aboard the private aircraft which had wandered onto the wrong runway were killed instantly.

Miraculously, with all that metal and friction there was no spark. No explosion. After checking the cabin and confirming no one remained on board, the TWA junior pilot was the last to exit the aircraft. All passengers were out of danger.

The TWA flight crew later received the Award of Excellence from the airline and the Superior Airmanship Award from the Airline Pilots Association for their handling of the accident. The junior pilot soon became one of TWA’s youngest captains in their fleet. His name wasn’t on the front page. It hardly made the back page when the investigation was complete weeks later.


Through Hollywood sensationalism, the world will forever know Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger safely landed on the Hudson River, but relatively few know the name of the pilot that night who helped save a similarly sized aircraft fully loaded with passengers. Randy “Rand” Speed. My brother. Still today when asked about the incident, he responds, “I just did my job”.

Early the following morning, mom called me in San Antonio, leaving a voicemail. “Mark. Randy has crashed his plane… but he’s ok”. WHAT?? Mom, might you have reversed that statement! I don’t know a lot of people who crash a jetliner and come out ok. But what a Thanksgiving we had that year.


I love telling this, and other “Rand stories”. This particular event could have easily ended more tragically had the wrong choice been made while moving down that runway at full speed. Had he veered too hard to avoid the private plane, rather than steering “through”, it could have cost the lives of almost 150 people.

We each have our own very personal story. That single defining experience, shaping who we are. Our testimony. 


Recently, Rand was in town for his final flight medical exam required for his return to the cockpit again flying, now for American which had taken over TWA. Randy had been out of the cockpit over two years.  

His visit was unexpected. First, I had no plan to see my Tennessee brother on such short notice. Secondly, only two years prior he was diagnosed with advanced stage esophageal cancer. His oncologists, and even Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Center gave him a bleak prognosis. He should go home and prepare to die within the next eight months if he took chemotherapy. Left untreated, he had only half of that.

Today, he is completely cancer free. Not a trace. What a miracle! That’s one reason I asked if we could share his story. Hopefully, the rest of the story will help this all make more sense.

Pre-Flight

Randy Speed: Age 16; Twins M&M: age 10

Often, our older siblings carry an unrealistic and lofty position in our eyes. Personally, my “Big Brother” has always been my hero. 

We were “dry land farmers”. That means you only irrigate when it’s desperately dry. A family of six. Farming cotton in the west Texas red dirt. Three boys, Randy the oldest. Karla, the only girl (bless her heart), and twin boys, Mike and Mark, the youngest.

Growing up with a fairly large age gap, we felt like this grown-up, Randy, was a stranger under our roof. Too busy being older and responsible to spend any real quality time with us. He had his own room, which we thought was so cool and private. A place us kids weren’t allowed to enter. To touch his Ford LTD was a death wish and don’t even think about coming within ten feet of his motorcycle.

One Sunday afternoon, Mom came outside abruptly. “Boys… hurry! Randy and Pam have crashed his motorcycle. They’re at the hospital right now”. What? This can’t be serious. I mean, after all we’d never had anything serious happen before so it couldn’t be that big a deal.

Arriving at the Brownfield Regional Hospital ER, it became a big deal. I’ll never forget seeing Randy’s ashen face. Emotionless. Destitute. Like every ounce of blood and oxygen had been robbed from him. It was all moving in slow motion. He was just 15 years old and he was afraid of losing his first love, Pam Brown, who was screaming like I’d never heard a person scream while doctors and nurses surrounded her.

I stood on my tip toes and looked into the room through the glass window to see my big brother’s girlfriend writhing in fear and pain. She couldn’t be dying… could she? My very first experience with tragedy. Personal loss. Loss I saw in my family’s eyes. I’ll never forget it. Randy was uninjured, but was forever changed.

Mom and Dad acted as most parents would. To protect the kids, they wanted to minimize the possibility the worst could happen. For the sake of the of the innocent young ones, make sure they don’t know how bad it is. For Randy, how do we even comprehend what to do? Make him feel like it’ll be ok. That was difficult with the Brownfield News plastering horrific front page photos of the two teenagers at the scene while they placed Pam in the ambulance.

Sadly, Pam passed within a few days of the accident. Randy was affected far more deeply than we knew. Only recently has he confided in me and allowed me to share. He was not assured life would be ok again. He worked hard to deal with his unspeakable loss. One that few unfortunate souls will experience, and he was only a young boy.

To complete this story, Randy agreed to allow me to share the following. When he turned 16, he was sitting on his bed, fully prepared to run… permanently. To end his own life. Without too many details, it was a matter of a split second decision. He chose instead to run in a different direction: to live.

Randy decided to become a pilot. I never understood what led him to that vocational choice but I do now. You see, our brother still wanted to end the pain, but if it was intentional that would devastate his family. Instead, he thought as a pilot he’d have a better than average chance to lose his life “accidentally”. Now, it makes more sense. Yet what Satan intended for evil, God turned around for good.

I’ll never forget one Sunday evening after church, Rand took Mike and me above the town in a single prop Cessna purposefully flying straight up, stalling the engine… then free falling into a nose dive! He liked to place objects on the instrument panel and dip the plane to catch the object in his hand. He also loved to surprise the family on a weekend afternoon by “buzzing” the house. (picture Maverick in Top Gun buzzing the tower).

To this day, he has a passion for flight. Ironically, the very thing Randy wanted to use to end his life became the very thing that made him want to live it.

Certified a cancer-free Airbus Captain 10/25/19

The parallels between Randy and our son, Braden’s stories as teens in crisis, are too clear to ignore; and the contrasts as well. We all have moments we feel like running from the pain life brings. HOW and WHERE we run makes all the difference. Some choose to “run” by avoidance or by leaving the world to escape, feeling no other way to leave. Some “run” to the wrong group of friends or to addiction, drugs, etc. Still others choose to “run” towards Jesus.

Thank God, our big brother chose to continue his run. Later in life he has run to his Creator. Today, his testimony inspires many who have watched him run his race. How many lives could have possibly been lost on that St. Louis runway, and how many lives would have gone uninspired by his healing from certain death to cancer had Rand run another way?

If you can’t tell. I consider my brother to be one in a billion. We pray readers may find hope through his story; perhaps someone who in this very moment feels they have no option but to run away permanently will instead choose life.

Godspeed, Rand. Keep flying high.

Isaiah 40:30-31

Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

Light out of darkness

Prayer for readers: Lord, when we run life’s race we are too often blinded to think we run alone. Please remind us that you are right by our side and you go before us. Thank you for opening doors we could never pry open alone, allowing us to run to you. Thank you for answered prayers we call miracles and keeping Randy here to share his inspiring story. May someone in need of hope find it today. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

16 thoughts on “Run Ways

  1. This Speed Family are very special to me. I’ve heard all these stories and prayed with and for them. You see, their Mother Janie is my Kindred Spirit friend and has been the ROCK in this family. My deceased husband Don was also a professional pilot and always said he thought Randy should have been his son. These are great stories that show that our Lord has plans for each of us. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I continue to be so proud of my kids! When I think how young we were when we had our family….I had four children by the time I was twenty five! ,…..I know it was only through Gods grace and wisdom that we were able to parent you to grow up to be such wonderful upstanding adults who all know the Lord. I have seen Him carry you through many trials that come from living in this broken world and you have always come out better rather than bitter and for that I give God the glory and praise. Because He lives we can face tomorrow whatever comes and I’m thankful that you all know this!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s certainly hard to believe how wonderful God has been to Pamela and I. As you know full well we ask why so many times and it seems we don’t get answers. The only conclusion I have come to is that we’re incapable of looking at the big picture just like Timothy talked about in the Bible. Yes, life has dealt me some mighty big blows but God has given me the faith and family to help me get through each and every time.
    Thanks for doing justice to my story Brother. How fortunate I am to have such a great family.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The story of that motorcycle wreck is one I remember. Being a cousin of a cousin to you guys, i heard how very deeply hurt Randy was over the loss of his girlfriend in such a tragic way. I can’t imagine how He could feel any other way!
    I did not, however, know a THING about the plane story! What a cool story! Why didn’t I know this story?!?!
    And I have followed his cancer journey with fear, followed by awe. You have praised Him in the storm. Lots of storms. All of you!
    I am proud to know every one of you.
    Good people…

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  5. Pam’s funeral was the first funeral I ever attended. At that tine, I wondered how in the world Randy could handle her death! I now know that he almost couldn’t, and I’m thankful that he figured out how to fight the demons that threatened him. Mark, you were younger and I didn’t really know you growing up but, connecting through Facebook, I’ve prayed for your family . . . that God would comfort you as you grieved over the loss of your son and that your family would heal. I see now that your faith is what gets you through such pain. Thank you for sharing this testimony!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Two of my biggest heros! God is good and the hindsight is not always so revealing but thankful He allowed us to see His goodness in all of these tragedies. Love you Rand and Mark Allen💕💕

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you so much for sharing this, Mark, Cathy, and the entire Speed family. You are loved and prayed for always. Randy is bravely flying in the sky, Braden is effortlessly gliding with the angels, and they’re both full of the Spirit and changing others’ lives with their own lives, while y’all are lifting all of our hearts, souls, beliefs, expectations, and actions to be better and do better here on earth so one day we may all hopefully soar, too.

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  8. So many memories flood my mind as I read this,, Pam was a good & dear friend. Randy was also ,, when you live in a Small town ..every one knows one another, by name . We were so young to experience such a loss , so tragic for Randy and Pam’s Family,, many broken hearts and not old enough to truly understand the Loss for many .. to read this gives me Peace & Comfort for Randy , all his Family and many more ,, God Bless you all for your tragic losses ,, may you continue to Spread this Story of God’s Healing Hands , my Love to all , Cyan Cottrell

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  9. Outstanding job Mark. Portrayed exactly as Rand would have it. I am amazed when I think about what life can throw at us. Amazed at what the Devil constantly strives to do to us. And yet God has made us as little children. So resilient and innocent. Those are the traits needed to remain standing when things become unbearable. He has created us with the knowledge that He is beside us all the way. If we can open our hearts and minds, just as Randy did with Pam and with Joan, to God and His wisdom His plans for us will continue. Even in the face of ultimate death Rand stood strong. There are things you nor anyone else will ever know during those long days of dispart. I watched Randy suffer through many different physical pains and yet his faith remained strong. It never faltered. Not once. When I stop to think about that time it makes me shiver and get butterflies in my stomach. But not also makes me stand back in awe at the strength my husband has. Even now he continues to face forward with God by his side.

    Thank you brother for sharing Rands story with others. There is a time and a place for everything to happen and this was the right time and the best place to share in an effort to help someone facing similar obstacles.

    You did him good. Real good and I thank you for loving him and accepting me into your family.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thank you Braden’s Voice…. I don’t even know what to say… thank you guys for sharing your life messages to a hurting and desperate world. Love to all Janice

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