On July 19, 1989, Helen Young Hayes boarded United Airlines Flight 232 in Denver, bound for Chicago. That flight never made it. It suffered catastrophic failure of its tail-mounted engine and crashed in Sioux City, Iowa.
Miraculously, Hayes survived. Now she's publically sharing her remarkable story of faith.
"I remember every minute of it as vividly as if it were last week!" Hayes told CBN News.
The harrowing experience tested the faith of the successful money manager seated in row 9, seat B.
Armed with faith, she prayed the impossible: that God literally guide the pilots' hands as they attempted to land a DC-10 with no hydraulic assistance – something that had never been done before.
"Just as I figured out that something was wrong, the captain came on again and he said, 'Ladies and gentlemen, we will not be making it to Chicago after all. We have sustained tail damage to our plane. We are going to attempt an emergency landing in Sioux City, Iowa, in 35 minutes and I'm not gonna kid you folks -- it's gonna be rough," she recalled.
"The plane was just careening about. I looked up and as I was being thrown around in my seat I saw myself surrounded with flames and for that moment, for the first time, I was afraid," she continued.
"And I thought, 'Dear God, don't let me be burned,' and then the flames passed and suddenly we were somersaulting over and tumbling upside down and then we slid to a stop. All I could hear was the sound of crackling and sizzling and burning," she recalled.
"I could hear passengers moaning and I was hanging upside down and I thought 'Well, what do I do now?' because this is not what we had rehearsed. This is not what I expected," she said.
Hayes, one of the 185 people who survived, said she knew she was on that flight for a reason.
"I was on the plane because, unbeknownst to me, the pilot's hands needed guidance and so a prayer was put in me that I just prayed," she told CBN News.
So, what exactly did she pray?
"The first thing that came to mind was the pilots' hands," she said. "I closed my eyes and I just prayed for pilots and I asked the Lord to give them guidance and wisdom and show them what to do. And I believe my prayer was answered that day."
"For the first time in aviation history the plane -- a plane that was not steerable and had no elevators, so it doesn't have the ability to go up and down and it does not have breaks and landing gear -- a completely unsteerable plane was brought to the runway," she continued.
"And while they expected that no one would survive, 185 people lived! I know that's why I was on the plane," she concluded.
So, where did Hayes get her faith?
"I had grown up believing in the salvation of Jesus through my mother and attending our local Catholic church," Hayes told CBN News.
"But there's part of me that always wondered ever since I was a little girl will what I believe in prove to be real to me when I needed (it) the most," she said. "And when I am sitting at the edge of eternity, will I be afraid and will God be real to me?"
"And so what was decided for me on July 19, 1989, was, yes, all of that is more real than anything else," Hayes said.
It was her relationship with Jesus that really helped her through life's storms – to live a life bigger than she ever could have imagined.
"I think it's really from knowing who the person of Jesus Christ is and we learn about Him through Scripture, through what He said to what He did," Hayes explained. "We learn about Him in community. We learn about Him through the lives and experiences of other people and then by just spending time with Him.
Undaunted by her brush with death 17 years earlier, Hayes has since racked up a million airline miles.
"I have hit the million-mile mark!" she exclaimed. "I have looked death in the eye and sat and glanced over the edge of eternity and I have to say, I believe that death is nothing to fear because I know that this life will just usher in the next life… the real life. It's graduation day. Yes, it's graduation day!"