STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's Friday morning, which means it's time again for StoryCorps. At recording booths across this country, Americans are sharing stories that have shaped their lives. And today, we'll hear a story from one of the deadliest U.S. airline accidents. In 1989, United Airlines Flight 232 crashed just outside of Sioux City, Iowa. One hundred eleven people died. Of the survivors, only 13 walked away unscathed. Martha Conant was one of them. And here, she tells her daughter-in-law, Brittany Conant, about that day.
Ms. MARTHA CONANT (StoryCorps Contributor): There was a jerk. The airplane really lurched. And the pilot said, we've lost an engine. No problem. DC-10s can fly perfectly well on two engines. Sorry for the disturbance. I hope you enjoy the rest of your lunch.
The flight attendants were picking up the dishes and one member of the flight crew came back to look out the window at the wings. But he was calm, he was talking to people. So there was confidence that this was just a hitch; that we were going to be fine.
It was 40 minutes from the time that the plane lurched until we - I'm going to say landed rather than crashed because we were intending to land. And I remember the pilot told us over the P.A. that it's going to be the roughest landing you've ever experienced. And he yelled, brace, brace, brace.
The next thing was a huge influx of air and debris. And my body was being bounced around so much, I was out of control. I lost consciousness. And when I came to, I remember saying to myself, oh, I'm still alive. Then the motion stopped and the plane was still.
Ms. BRITTANY CONANT (Martha Conant's Daughter-in-Law): Do you think that there is a reason that you survived unharmed?
Ms. M. CONANT: Well, I have asked myself that question so many times. When survivors were being fed and cared for, I ended up talking to a young man who was a social worker. And he said, God must have had a reason for saving you. You haven't finished your life's work yet.
And I was quite troubled. It felt like I was saddled with a lot of responsibility to figure out, what is this work I'm supposed to be doing? And then the flipside is God didn't have anymore work for all those other people, and I don't believe that. I decided to live with as few regrets as possible: Not leaving home in the morning being upset with someone, not passing up a chance to tell my husband or one of the boys how much I love them.
It was hard to do that because it wasn't the habit. But whenever I thought, oh, this is hard, then I'd think, well, I might not be coming home tonight. It's not that hard.
That event was like being picked up by the scruff of the neck and shaken and God says, this is your only life. Just be grateful that you've got these days and these hours and these wonderful people in your life. Just be grateful for that.
And one of the things that has followed me, surrounded me, wrapped me, I think, is that feeling of gratitude.
INSKEEP: Martha Conant, who survived the crash of United Airlines Flight 232 in 1989. She was interviewed by her daughter-in-law Brittany in Greeley, Colorado. And their interview will be archived along with all the others at the Library of Congress. You can read Martha's story in "Listening is an Act of Love," the new StoryCorps book. And you can hear more at npr.org.