I've heard truly amazing stories over the years, about almost every human situation. Conflict, defeat, triumph, resilience. Recently, I heard something that left me in awe. I haven't stopped thinking about John Diaz's story. He was on my show telling of his escape six years ago from Singapore Airlines flight 006. Eighty-three people perished in the flames. John and 95 others survived. John—who describes himself as a very straightforward, competitive, and pragmatic kind of guy—now walks with the help of a walker and endures the physical pain of his injuries every day. But in other ways he is more alive than he was before he literally went through the fire.
The plane took off in typhoon-like conditions. Before John boarded, his instinct told him not to. He'd called the airline several times—"Are you sure this plane is taking off?"—because it was storming so badly. Peering out the window at takeoff, all he could see was rain. He was sitting in the very front of the plane and watched as the nose started to lift. But the 747 had turned down the wrong runway.
At first he felt a small bump (the plane hitting the concrete barrier), followed by a huge bump right next to him where something (a backhoe) ripped a hole in the side of the plane right near where he was seated. His seat came unbolted and was thrown sideward. He could feel the motion of the plane rolling and spinning down the runway. And then it stopped. He recounts what happened: "Then the explosion hit … a great fireball came right out and over me all the way up to the nose of the plane and then sucked straight back, almost like in the movies. And then there was this spray of jet fuel like napalm—whatever it hit … ignited like a torch… And a gentleman, an Asian gentleman, comes running right up to me, fully aflame. I could see all his features, and there was a look of wonder on his face—like he didn't even know he was dead and burning. And I figured, well, I must be the same. I really thought at that point I was dead."
I asked John if he believed it was divine intervention that saved him. He said no. He said what helped him get out was his position in the plane and quick thinking—to protect himself from the smoke and flames, he covered his head with the leather bag he'd been encouraged not to carry on, then he looked for the door and kept moving. And then he shared something I'm still talking about, to the point of sharing it with you now.
The inside of the plane, John said, "looked like Dante's Inferno, with people strapped to their seats, just burning. It seemed like an aura was leaving their bodies—some brighter than others … I thought the brightness and dimness of the auras were how one lives one's life."
John says that experience—seeing what he could only describe as auras, an energy of light leaving the bodies and floating above the flames—changed him, made him a more empathetic person. And although he still won't call his close call with death a miracle, he does say, "I want to live my life so my aura, when it leaves, is very bright."
What I know for sure: That's a goal we all can share.
From the April 2007 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
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