Example of Living by Guiding Principles

Moments after Air Florida’s Flight 90 left the runway at Washington’s National Airport, it was clear that the Boeing 737 was not going to fly. As it shuddered and stalled, the co-pilot said, “We’re going down,” and the pilot answered grimly, “I know it.” With a deafening crash it slammed into the Fourteenth Street Bridge and plunged into the icy waters of the Potomac. Witnesses watched in horror as the fuselage, which had broken free of the tail section, rolled gently and sank beneath the surface, its rows of passengers still strapped into their seats. Only the tail remained afloat—with six people  clinging to it.One of them was Arland D. Williams, Jr., a balding, graying, middle-aged bank examiner and father of two, who was on his way to an investigation in Florida. Although divorced two years previously, he was soon to be remarried. He had the best chance for survival, for while the others had broken limbs and collapsed lungs, he was relatively free of injury. All he had to do was hang on until help arrived.

At 4:20, nineteen minutes after the crash, the rotors of the US Park Police helicopter were heard thwacking through the cold winter air. Bert Hamilton, who was treading water about ten feet from the floating tail, took the single lifeline dangling beneath the chopper and passed it under his arms. The others watched while the helicopter carried him a hundred yards to the Virginia shore and returned. This time, Arland Williams caught the line. Instead of wrapping it around himself, however, he passed it to flight attendant Kelly Duncan. Soon she too was safe.

On its third trip back to the wreckage, the helicopter trailed two lifelines, for its crew knew that survival in the river was only a matter of minutes. One of the lines was aimed at Williams. He caught it again and again passed it on, this time to Joe Stiley, the most severely injured survivor. Stiley slipped the line around his waist and grabbed Priscilla Tirado, who having lost her husband and baby, was in complete hysteria. Patricia Felch took the second line, and the helicopter pulled away. Before it reached the shore, however, Priscilla Tirado lost her grip and fell back into the water so the helicopter, on its next trip, had to return for her.

Arland Williams’ turn came at last. The chopper crew was eager to meet him and salute his selfless heroism. But, as they approached the wreckage, they saw he was gone, It was 4:30, he had been in the paralyzing cold for 29 minutes—a minute or so too long.

Rescue officer Gene Windsor wept as he related the incident to his wife. “He could have gone on the first trip,” said the pilot, Donald Usher, “but he put everybody else ahead of himself. Everyone.”

I recall sharing the story of Arland Williams some years after this tragedy. A women in my seminar came up to me at the next break and told me that she knew him because she had lived in his neighborhood in Florida, before he was killed. She stated that she wasn’t surprised by the story since he was known as a selfless man. She also shared that he was engaged and just a few months away from being married.

Whether he had written a set of guiding principles of not, Arland Williams is certainly an example of someone who lived by higher principles. How easy it would have been to save himself. Who would have blamed him? But in a moment of crisis, he could not do so. Loving one’s neighbor, caring for others, being unselfish, however he would have expressed it, overruled other motives or considerations.

What are the principles by which you live? Have you thought about them? Written them down? Doing so will change how you live.



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