BMM 100 Years: The Brazil plane crash
Published: February 20, 2020

On November 25, 1962, Brazil missionary pilot Harold Reiner started up his plane with his wife, Joan, their children Peter and Sandra, and coworker Bernice Lind on board. During takeoff, Harold hit a hole on the runway. The plane flipped, then burned, killing Peter, Sandra, and Bernice and badly burning Harold and Joan. Just two years earlier, Harold had lost his first wife, Ruth, to cancer. 

How could Harold and Joan not only survive such devastating losses but also consider their call to missions 100 percent worth the cost? Their secret lay in the mindset of the Apostle Paul, who stated in Acts 20:24, 

“But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” 

Harold recounted their story in this December 1962 letter:

Everyone has called it a tragedy, a disaster. You have spent three weeks in the small interior hospital and now you are home—you and your wife, the only survivors of the five who crashed in the mission plane three weeks ago last Sunday. Two that were killed were your own children, Sandra and Peter. Bernice Lind was one of your beloved fellow workers. You were at the controls, the pilot, the one responsible for the lives of your passengers, and now nearly everyone is talking “tragedy,” “disaster.” You’ve been piloting a plane for the mission for over ten years and have logged thousands of hours in missionary flying. But now you have been humbled, reduced to nothing. Three lives have been taken, two your own flesh and blood. You did your best to save them, this you know. You’re reminded of the Scripture—“He must increase but I must decrease.” You hope this will be true.

On the second day in the hospital, they bring you the newspaper from the coast. Headlines—“Disaster.” But they know nothing of the peace you and your wife, Joan, are experiencing at that very hour. There’s a weight on your heart, but there’s a greater peace and knowledge that with God all is well. You lie on the bed suffering fever and the ache and pain that can only be associated with severe burns. You are reminded of the everlasting torments of hell’s fires with no doctors or hospitals available, and your heart cries out, “Thanks to God for an eternal salvation.” You talk freely with your doctors about this. They listen.

Graves of Bernice Lind, Peter and Sandra ReinerA day or two later you are told about the funerals. Peter and Sandra were laid away the same day of the crash. You are told that little cedar boxes were used, and hundreds attended as their little bodies were placed away. The following day your faithful colleague Bernice was laid away by their side. Years ago, you gave your life to the Lord and you meant it. Now He had asked for a part of it. Could you rebel or complain? No—you sense that peace that comes only from above. The record player that the missionaries brought to your hospital room plays softly.

“God leads His dear children along. Some through the water, some through the flood, some through the fire, but all through the Blood. Some through great trials, but God gives a song—In the night season and all the day long.”

You’ve sung these words and now you are experiencing their truth. You look over at Joan and give thanks to the Lord for her. She’s burnt a bit more than you are, but she smiles. She’s passing through your experiences, too. She leans over and quietly tells you that if God wants you to continue missionary flying, she’s with you. She wants God’s best. You’re proud of her.

The telegrams begin to arrive from all over the United States and Brazil. The pile grows higher, and you feel an overwhelming desire to talk to your loved ones outside of Christ. Oh, that they could know your Savior! While so many are crying “disaster,” you know that all this is in the planning of an Eternal God. Nothing had gone amiss, and He is still on the throne.

As those first few days in the hospital drag slowly by, you begin to wonder—is this ministry worth it all? You have lost two of your children. Your fellow worker has been called to rest from her faithful labors—is it worth it? You were called to this work years before, but has all this cost too much? Then you begin to receive visitors, many of them from all over the backlands. Bit by bit your doubt begins to slip away as you chat from your bedside with those whose lives or whose relatives’ lives have been saved by the plane months or years before. Others come in from interior stations where the very plane you had been piloting a few days before was the instrument which had taken them the Gospel. They had been converted and in the wee hours of the nights you were trying to recall these experiences of the last years. They were too numerous, but you felt overwhelming joy in the face of sorrow.

On the eighteenth day, you are wheeled into the operating room for the remaining surgery on your face. The doctor is to make a cut or two and slide the right side of your nose back to its original place. You have been impressed for a long time with the attention and care you have needed, and during the middle of the operation you apologize for all the work you have caused the doctors at the hospital. You remember him scolding and thanking you for the many lives of his backland people you have been instrumental, under God, in saving. You’re humbled before God and grateful for these words.

You have faced a barrage of questions, and you know that Christians all over are asking, “Will Harold fly again? Will he have the courage?” You’ve thought of it much. The answer is simple; it’s from the heart and you mean it. “Whatever God asks you to do, you’ll do it regardless of the cost.” Will this bring “tragedy,” “disaster”? No. Only the perfect will of God and the peace which accompanies it.

May the Lord bless each one of you.

In Him,

Harold and Joan Reiner

After his recovery, Harold continued flying for the next 40 years, and he and Joan served in Brazil into their older years—60 years of service for Harold.