By Mercedes Ramirez Johnson
My name is Mercedes Ramirez Johnson. It was my 21st birthday and my parents and I were so excited to be embarking on our trip from Kansas City, Missouri to Cali, Colombia. It would be the first time in over 30 years that my parents would be spending the Christmas holiday with their family in Colombia since coming to the US in the 1960’s. My parents, Benjamin and Mercedes Ramirez, were both hardworking parents that came to this country for us to have a better shot at life.
We had a connecting flight in Miami that would take us directly into Cali that evening. Less than 15 minutes from landing, the pilots, without warning, jerked the nose of the aircraft straight up into the air. Passengers were immediately thrown into a state of panic. I could hear people screaming all around me and parents trying to calm down their children.
The cabin was shaking violently back and forth as we climbed higher while the engines grinded loudly in the background. Over all of this terrifying noise, I could hear my mother’s voice in the row in front of me. She was praying. Hearing her familiar voice steadily reciting her prayer gave me a sense of calm. My last memory in those final seconds was hearing a loud BOOMING sound from the back of the airplane. My only instinct was to grab hold of my father’s hand, and close my eyes shut as tightly as possible.
I woke up in a dark room and I assumed I was in my cousin’s room in Cali. I felt around for her nightstand to find my glasses. But there was no nightstand. There were no glasses. I opened my eyes and looked all around me, but all I could see were blurry shapes and colors; I couldn’t figure out where I was. I started to retrace my steps to remember where the night has taken me. It took me at least 10 minutes to finally realize my parents and I had never made it to the airport. All those unfamiliar blurry shapes and colors started to take form. I slowly began to see that I was surrounded by wires dangling from the ceiling, seats of the airplane ripped out of place, luggage busted open with clothes spilling from them, and motionless people all around me.
I quickly looked around for my parents and did not see them. I figured if I was ok, they must be ok. My cries for help were answered when the young man who had been seated next to my mother pulled me from the wreckage. It was early morning time, a thick fog was the blanket over the mountain. As far as my eyes could see was debris from the airplane, in pieces all along the mountainside. The final path of the airplane was perfectly outlined from the clipped trees it must have barreled through until it crashed.
From the moment the plane crashed until the rescuers found us there was a lapse of 18 hours that we were stranded on that mountain. Eighteen hours felt like a very long time, all I could do was sit and think. To keep from focusing on all the death and devastation around me, I concentrated my thoughts on my friends from college. I was a junior in college at the time, so my friends were a very important part of my life. I couldn’t stop to think about my family because thinking about them would have brought me back to that mountain, so I occupied my thoughts with the fun college memories I had experienced those past 2.5 years. But the more I thought about my friends, the sadder I grew because I thought how unfair it would be to never be able to see those people again and let them know how much I cared for them. So I put my hands together and started to pray. I begged God that if he gave me a second chance at life, I’d promise to make it count. And I just kept praying and begging him over and over again. It wasn’t until I was rescued and taken to the hospital that I learned that my parents had perished in the plane crash. It was a painful reality that I was not prepared for. I went through a stage that I was angry at the Lord for taking my parents away from me. I thought “If God is so good, why would he let something so bad happen to so many good people?”
But through my anger, through my grief came my acceptance. I felt I didn’t have any right to question what happened or why it happened, because I had been granted a second chance at life to make good on my promise I made on that mountain. I accepted the fact that nothing could change the past, and I was grateful for the strong emotional bonds I shared with my mother and my father. Although I was sad I would physically never have them in my life again, I was honored that I was able to love them, have fun with them and experience so many beautiful things together with them for exactly 21 years of my life. I know my parents wouldn’t have wanted me to turn into a bitter person, and I know God never wants any of his children to be consumed in pain and anger. So my strong faith has helped me live each day as a new gift from the Lord. It’s a gift I live for myself, my parents and the other 160 passengers that lost their lives on my birthday, December 20th 1995.
Since then, I have become a inspirational speaker. I know that by helping others achieve their dreams through the work that I do, I’m helping the dreams live on for so many that had their dreams shattered on that mountainside. For more information about my professional development and workplace safety programs, and to sign up for my free ezine, please visit my website www.MercedesRamirezJohnson.com.
For more information and to join the ezine, visit
2612 Avalon Drive
Lewisville, TX 75056
“Every morning you’ve been given a brand new second chance at life. What are you going to do with your new second chance today?” – Mercedes
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