Hope Amid Tragedy: My Brother and Christian and Stephanie Nielson
This past week I finished reading the book, Heaven is Here, written by Stephanie Nielson. It is the story of the tragic airplane crash in 2008 which my brother did not survive, but the Nielsons did. Except for my scriptures, Stephanie's book is one of the most beautifully written and inspiring books I have ever read. It is the story of the Nielsons surviving the fiery plane crash with terrible burns to their bodies, their subsequent struggles and their strength through faith. Stephanie Nielson, also known to millions of people around the world as Nie Nie of the NieNieDiaglogues.com blog, is an amazing woman and Christian is a strong, righteous husband.
The first thing I want to say – before I let my thoughts flow and my fingers type – is this: I am asking you not to click on a single ad on this hub as I don't want to make one penny from this article. I will place a photograph of the cover of the book, Heaven is Here, on this hub, but I won't place it in an Amazon capsule as I do not want you to buy the book through my article. I hope you will look at the book somewhere, sometime, and I hope you will purchase a copy. I believe the proceeds go to help pay for the very necessary medical treatments Stephanie and Christian have endured.
Stephanie Nielson tells her story humbly and candidly.
What is it I want to write about? I want to write about my brother, Douglas, also known as Major Douglas C. Kinneard. (Pronounced Kinnard.) Several times in the years before I read Heaven is Here, I reasoned with myself that I do not need to write about Doug. He was bigger than life when he was on this earth, but where he is now, he is not concerned about accolades. It's nice that we remember him in our hearts, but I believe he is in a very busy and beautiful place, where he doesn't have time to consider our remembrances, our fondness of his ways, and our memories of never being able to keep up with him and his energy.
The humble lessons Stephanie Nielson imparts through the recounting of her slow recovery from the plane crash, physically and emotionally, taught me so much, quietly and firmly, even though I cannot imagine one-hundredth part of how she actually endured and had the will to keep trying and keep being positive during her excruciating treatments.
The story of Stephanie and Christian's unimaginable ordeal is capable of touching the heart, the spirit of a person, and teaching valuable insights we all need to learn, one way or another. Every word in this book seems necessary. I do not want to do the story the injustice of summarizing it.
While reading the book, I felt joy to know Doug was privileged to be a friend of these very special people, Christian and Stephanie. Joy permeates joy so I feel I want to share the joy a little – regarding the kind of friend and person Doug was – and still is, where he is now.
Doug knew the importance of setting goals.
Doug is my younger brother, six years younger than me. He liked pushing himself to excel academically and in sports. He also liked acting, dancing, and being the center of attention. He was good at it. I think in high school, he played four different Super Heroes in a school play which involved swinging through the air on stage. I didn't get to attend by some happenstance but he loved that experience and I thought he might become an actor. I also thought Doug would make an excellent lawyer. He loved to use reason and logic to prove an argument. He did it well.
After finishing high school, Doug worked long hours as a waiter at The Keg to save his money so he could serve a two-year mission for our church. He left for his mission at 19 years old. When he returned two years later, he attended BYU in Provo, Utah. He met a special girl there, an American girl (Doug was born in Canada) and within a year, they decided to marry.
By challenging many of the courses at BYU, Doug graduated early and soon reached his goal of becoming an ad executive for a television station before the age of 25. It was at this point, Doug decided what he really wanted to do. He wanted to be a jet fighter pilot. The cut-off date for applying and entering the United States Air Force was his 26th birthday and it was fast approaching. His young and lovely wife, Roslyn, supported his decision to change his career direction. Doug took his training in Texas to become an officer in the United States Air Force. He then took his jet fighter pilot training in Arizona at the Williams Field base. He reached his dream.
Major Douglas Kinneard served his country.
Not too many years hence, Doug became a Public Relations manager for Boeing in an eastern state and then later in Mesa, Arizona, handling the marketing of one of the types of Boeing aircraft for military use. Doug was a prolific writer. He was good at marketing and public relations. He especially enjoyed the Paris Air Show where a lot of product was sold.
Doug and his wife raised four children as Doug worked at Boeing and also continued a career in the military – in the reserves – serving in Saudi Arabia and many other areas of the world where duty called. He retired as a Major after 22 years in the United States military. All the while, he still had his love of flying, so he also taught flight school – for Boeing – to civilians who wanted to become pilots. He took extra training and licensing so that he could also test and re-certify pilots.
I remember after we bought a house three blocks away from Doug's family home in Mesa and got settled in, Doug would often come jogging over in sweat pants and his t-shirt to ask if I wanted to go walking with him. (He knew I was hopeless at jogging, so he would do his jogging first.) His t-shirt read: Because I fly, I envy no man. It's a USAF standard t-shirt.
We had some great walks and talks together during those couple of years. I miss him. What I remember, too, is Doug's sense of humor.
Engine trouble after taking off in St. Johns, Arizona
Christian Nielson took his flight training from Douglas. They became good friends. Christian was a licensed pilot at the time he and Stephanie invited Doug to come along on the flight with them to Christian's family's ranch in Bluewater, New Mexico. After a great flight to their destination and a good afternoon, they headed back. En route to Mesa, Arizona where they all lived, they stopped at St. Johns, Arizona to refuel. It was when they were taking off from St. Johns, after refueling, that something went wrong with one of the engines of the little Cessna.
In her book, Stephanie describes the moments before, during and after the fiery crash. From what I understand from Doug's wife – who must have learned it through Christian -- Christian was at the controls upon take-off. The plane had been checked out properly before take off, but as the plane and its occupants began to gain a little altitude something suddenly changed. Both Doug and Christian became aware instantly that there was a problem. Christian was at his controls on the left side of the plane and there are also controls on the right side of this type of plane. Doug was sitting on the right at the dual controls. Christian said to Doug, “You have control of the aircraft.” This is standard flight parlance meaning, 'I am handing the controls to you right now!' Doug's answer was according to standard procedure: “I have control of the aircraft.'
I might actually have the wording slightly incorrect, but it was a particular sentence which is said by pilot to co-pilot when handing over the reins and it was stated correctly by Christian and repeated by Doug when Doug took control of the plane. Doug knew how to land a plane with only one engine working. He taught the procedure regularly in flight classes and in practicum. But as it happened, there was some steel apparatus in the way – something or other that was not allowed to be near the runway at the St. Johns Airport according to FAA regulations. It is my understanding the City of St. Johns later was taken to court for this terrible error and they willingly paid for the tragic mistake.
The plane went down.
A natural ability to lead.
Christian was able to get out of the plane himself. Christian thought, in his shocked, burned and still smoldering condition, Stephanie was following him, but she was trapped in her seat of the aircraft.
Two independent witnesses saw Doug rescue Stephanie from the burning plane. Stephanie's recollection of the terror and pain does not include Douglas in the recitation of events in her book or when she spoke of the events on Oprah and other shows. The account she gives in her book is harrowing, terrifying and – in one part – beautiful. Her grandmother from beyond the veil attended her to give her comfort and to strengthen Stephanie spiritually. I fully believe Stephanie has recounted the memories of the event as she remembers them.
Stephanie suffered burns to more than 80% of her body.
Doug received burns to 94% of his body. Only the soles of his feet were not burned. Doug's military training stood him in good stead. Doug was in shock, of course, yet he gave orders or instructions to the paramedics who needed a little instruction as they had never dealt with anything so horrendous. Doug and Stephanie were medic-vacced in one helicopter; Christian who suffered lesser burns to his body (but terrible nonetheless) and a broken back was placed in another helicopter. According to a paramedic at the scene, Douglas was amazing. His instructions were important. And he even had a sense of humor up to the moment he knew it was time to leave a message for his family. We will always treasure the quips we learned he had said. Then solemnly, he asked the paramedic to convey his message to his wife and family. After this, Doug quietly received the needle to induce a comatose state.
We believe families can be together again after mortality.
As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, my family and Doug's family have a strong faith of being united one day after this mortal life if we keep the commandments and follow the Savior's example of love and service. If ever you want to know more about the people of this church-- and the doctrine -- you can view short videos and read articles at mormon.org or lds.org. We are nicknamed by the world as Mormons and LDS people and we don't mind. We believe The Bible (King James version is the most correct and least tampered with throughout the centuries) to be the true word of God and his inspired prophets. We also believe The Book of Mormon to be another testament of Jesus Christ -- an ancient record of the peoples who inhabited the North and South Americas having been dispersed from Jerusalem at 600 BC and other times.
Stephanie was given a choice whether to return to her body or not.
The aircraft accident occurred on August 16th, 2008. When Stephanie was brought out of her induced coma, it was November 5th, 2008. Stephanie recounts in her book that while in a coma and away from her body (and while being administered a Priesthood Blessing by her brother and dad in the hospital room) she was given a choice to return to her earth life to live – or – not to return and to still be able to have an influence on her children from beyond the veil.
As members of the church, we believe marriage can be eternal when proper ordinances are performed within the temple by one in authority who holds the Melchizedek Priesthood. Stephanie knew she would be able to be reunited with her family when they completed their time on earth, but still she felt strongly she wanted to be on earth to help her children learn and grow – even though she was given to know how very hard it would be for her.
Stephanie endured countless painful skin grafts. The new growth of skin had to be scrubbed and re-bandaged every day. Physical therapy sessions were excruciating for her as she had to learn to move her fingers, then her wrists and arms. It was months before Stephanie could even stand again, and this was only with the help of four people to hold her up. Christian also endured these things for some time, but was not burned as extensively as Stephanie so he was able, with great effort, to be at Stephanie's bedside during her coma and when she came out of it. I cannot do the book justice by recounting more of it. It is one of the most inspiring books I have ever read. Stephanie and Christian are strong and loving people.
Doug Loved People and was a Leader
My brother, Doug, was full of love for others just as the Nielsons are. Doug loved to serve others and to teach. His first priority, always, was his wife and children. At home he was a cyclone of energy always thinking up some activity – whether work or play – for Roslyn and him to enjoy with the children. At church he taught young men and he often taught the adult classes as well throughout the years.
One trait of Doug's was he wanted his family and friends to be as self-sufficient in different kinds of settings as possible. Doug had one of the higher belts in karate and he taught this skill. He was also big on pistol practice at the shooting range, other forms of self-defense, plus camping in the snow, camping in the summertime and timed-obstacle courses.
Doug took his family and our son every year to Canada to visit our parents. Doug loved to go hiking, river rafting, swimming and running. The one sport he didn't talk to me about was hunting as he knew I think it's stupid to kill an innocent animal – unless a person is starving. We agreed to disagree and not talk to each other about it.
Christian and Stephanie Nielson overcome trials through Faith, Hope and Charity for others.
Are you familiar with (King James version) 1st Corinthians 15:29? This verse touches on one of the reasons there are temples dotting the earth. If ever you want to know about the holy work done within the walls of the temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, view one or two of the short videos at lds.org or mormon.org.
There are many falsehoods spread about the beliefs of the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. View these mentioned church-affiliated websites or ask an LDS person if you have a question.
It is by faith in our Father in Heaven and also in Jesus Christ that my brother, Douglas, was able to leave this earth peacefully. (A portion of the account is given in Stephanie's book, Heaven is Here, as she and Doug were awake in the air-ambulance together before they were both put into induced comas.) I have left out the personal and sacred events of Doug's passing the next day.
It is by faith in our Father in Heaven and also in Jesus Christ that Stephanie Nielson and Christian Nielson have been able to overcome their trials and rejoice in their ability to be with their children. To me, they are heroes.
They derive their strength from knowing a simple truth: Families can be together forever.
I am happy to have been able to share these few thoughts in a hub. Tomorrow, December 9th, 2013 would be Doug's 54th birthday.
And one more thing: Last week several family members celebrated Doug's life by wearing their Team Cyclone shirts in the 10-mile race on Thanksgiving Day in Mesa. It's a charity event. Doug never missed it if he and his family were home in Mesa for Thanksgiving. We now have t-shirts which say on the front, 'Viva La Vida, In memory of Doug Kinneard' and on the back: Team Cyclone. Just a small remembrance of a great man who is always in our thoughts.
We love you, Doug. Happy 54th.
Music Video -- Families Can Be Together Forever
- ♬♪ Families Can Be Together Forever - Children's Choir ♫♭ - YouTube
Want more?? http://www.lds-videos.org/ A Children's Choir sings Families Can Be Together Forever.
A Link to Stephanie's NieNie Dialogues
Temples of the Church, website.
- LDS (Mormon) Temple Photographs
Photographs of all the LDS temples in the Mormon Church.
© 2013 Pamela Kinnaird W