Asteady downpour of rain and occasional flashes of lightning cracked from the thunderclouds that July 9 in 1982. Pan American Flight 759 was preparing to depart from the New Orleans International Airport.
By Brian Blackwell
Asteady downpour of rain and occasional flashes of
lightning cracked from the thunderclouds that July 9 in 1982.
Pan American Flight 759 was preparing to depart from the New Orleans International Airport.
At the same time, businessman John Baye was arriving
at his home in the New Orleans suburb of Kenner, which sits adjacent to
He called his neighbor across the street to check on
his daughter, Lisa, who was staying there. His two other children were
at home with him.
Suddenly, at 4:09 p.m., the house shook violently.
Pan American Flight 759 had crashed into the neighborhood, killing all
145 passengers and crew on board. Eight persons in the neighborhood
also died later as a result of the plane crash – including
six-and-a-half year old Lisa Baye.
The National Transportation Safety Board later
determined a windshear on the airport’s runway and stormy weather
conditions during the liftoff slammed the plane into the ground just as
it was taking off.
The plane clipped trees while veering to its left, hit a power line and crashed into the Kenner neighborhood.
“As I looked out the window, I could see flames everywhere, and it was like an inferno,” Baye recalls.
“I checked on my two children and ran to the front of the house. It was like the whole world was burning.”
As he drove his two children and neighbors out of
the area, he took a mental inventory of the situation and realized his
daughter Lisa was not in the car.
When he returned to the neighborhood, Baye says he
could not find the girl. Immediately, he called his grandmother.
“She told me that she saw on the television that the
hospital was requesting the family of Lisa Baye to report immediately
there,” Baye recalls.
Moments later, Baye’s wife, Deborah, arrived at the
scene and fainted. Persons from First Baptist Church of Kenner, where
the Bayes were members at the time, were on the scene as well and
Fighting rush hour traffic, Baye and his wife
managed to arrive at East Jefferson General Hospital by 5:30 p.m.
However, Baye’s story is not just a tale of tragedy but a testimony of hope.
With Louisiana Baptists rallying around Baye – who
currently serves as pastor at Christ Baptist Church in Houma – and his
family, they turned what could have been a hopeless situation into an
avenue to minister to grieving individuals.
Members from First Baptist Church of Kenner were there for the family moments after the accident occurred.
Indeed, when Baye and his wife arrived at East
Jefferson General Hospital, they received a welcomed surprise.
As the elevator doors opened to the third floor of
the hospital, more than 300 persons from the Kenner church awaited
“Over the next 10 hours, they prayed with us, wept
with us and really administered the love of Christ,” Baye recalls.
Around 10 p.m., the doctor explained the severity of
the situation, but Baye says he only remembers hearing the physicians
say that his daughter would be okay.
By 1:30 a.m., the doctor told the Bayes they finally
could see Lisa. The family was unprepared for what they saw.
Lisa was burned so badly and suffering so severely she could not utter a word.
“We got close to her, and she was trembling,” Baye
says. “We said – ‘Lisa, it’s Mom and Dad. We love you and we’re
going to put you into Jesus’ hands.’”
But then, Lisa went into cardiac arrest and the Bayes left the room while the doctors worked to revive her.
“I went into the stairwell and prayed that God would
take her,” Baye recalls. “I’ve regretted that ever since, but at the
time, I couldn’t bare to watch her suffer.”
Forty-five minutes after the Bayes left the room, life passed from Lisa’s body.
At that moment, Baye admits that it felt like the family’s world had ended.
“Here we were new Christians, and I kept telling
myself, ‘This doesn’t happen to Christians,’” explains Baye, who had
become a Christian two years earlier. “We were totally committed to the
“Once I was saved, everything we had was the Lord’s.”
In the midst of their deep sorrow and grief, Baye says that First
Baptist Church of Kenner members rallied around the family throughout
the ordeal and funeral.
Still, Baye says,“For a while, we became embittered and angry until God showed us what was going on.”
Two months after the funeral, a man from Baton Rouge
who the Bayes never had met rang the family’s doorbell. The Louisiana
Baptist church member told the Bayes that the Lord had placed the
family on his heart.
His subsequent two-hour visit consisted of visiting and praying with the Bayes.
“After he left, we were so refreshed,” Baye explains. “It was like a cool breeze had blown over us.”
The man continued visiting the family every two to three weeks for several months.
Another Louisiana Baptist who ministered to the
family was Tom Denton, a resident of Kenner at the time. Though Denton
only said 20 words and mostly thumbed through Baye’s library of books
during his two-hour stay, he too refreshed the family during each
visit, Baye says.
Baye says the two men administered the most
important treatment possible for grieving persons – the ministry of
“We didn’t understand it then, but they came and ministered the comfort of God,” Baye says.
“What God’s people need to know and what we learned
is you don’t have to have a verse to quote or a special message from
God. All you need is to show God’s love and care by just being there.”
Still, despite the support of fellow Louisiana
Baptists, Baye says he remained bitter and angry toward God for two
years after his daughter’s death.
But he admits that he did not completely understand
why at the time. His answer began coming while attending a seminary
class at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary where he was
preparing for ministry.
As seminary Professor Kyle Freeman talked about
unresolved grief in one of his classes, Baye says he discovered he had
the symptoms of the problem, such as weight gain and deep depression.
After the class session, Baye scheduled an appointment with the professor to discuss his problem.
“He asked if I was angry with God ,and I said, ‘Christians don’t get angry at God,’” Baye recalls.
“He asked if I ever question God, and I said, ‘Christians shouldn’t question God.’
“He then asked ‘Didn’t our Lord and savior from the
cross look down and say, ‘My Lord, my God, why have you forsaken me?’”
“He asked, ‘If the son can ask, don’t you think he would allow you?’
“That began my healing.”
Before his meeting with Freeman, Baye says he would
not question God. Now, he knew it was okay to ask God frequently why he
had allowed Lisa to pass away.
“God allowed me to know it’s okay to ask, and he let
me know that he loved me in spite of my doubts and in spite of my
anger,” Baye explains.
“My wife and I know there’s hope and God cares,” he
continues. “Through the death of his son, God experienced and knows
what every parent who has lost a son or daughter goes through.”
Knowing Baye will see his daughter again someday makes dealing with 23 years without her more bearable, he says.
“We break down and cry occasionally but not like we
used to,” he adds. “But we aren’t without hope because we know
the Lord has a plan.
“We know we’ll all be together again.”
Today, Baye says he uses lessons learned from the
passing of his daughter to minister to grieving persons. The Louisiana
Baptist pastor is scheduled to receive his doctoral degree from New
Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary this month – and he wrote his
dissertation on how a church can minister to grieving individuals.
Based on his past experiences, Baye says there are several ways to minister to grieving individuals.
First, Baye says grieving persons may not want
someone to explain all the answers. Instead, they may want someone just
to spend time with them, such as the two Louisiana Baptist men who
visited the Bayes did the first year after their daughter passed away.
Second, Baye recommends that grieving individuals
let others know that it is okay to discuss their deceased loved one.
“We need to honor the life of the deceased by talking about them,” Baye
“There is tremendous healing that comes with
remembering others. If people won’t let you talk about them, find
people who will.”
Third, Baye says that practicing rituals is an important way to memorialize the deceased person.
For instance, the first three years following Lisa’s
death, the Bayes placed her Christmas stocking alongside those of the
“Though we knew she was in heaven, that ritual helped in the healing process,” Baye explains.
Fourth, Baye says individuals should read everything they can about grief.
Fifth, Baye urges persons to refrain from giving away anything the first month after their loved one’s death.
“Once they’re old enough to have playmates, we may
give away our loved one’s belongings to certain persons,” he says.
“What we’ve seen is that within a week or so, they will go by that
person’s house and the item is under the table or tossed to the side.
Those people love you, but they don’t respect your belongings like you
Finally, Baye says he would remind folks who want to
minister to their grieving friends that the important thing “is being