On April 15 Barry and Marybeth Mosier, Seventh-Day Adventists from Minnesota who have lived in Tanzania for eight years, boarded a flight in the Democratic Republic of the Congo with their children April, 14, and Andrew, 3, enroute to visiting their son Keith, 24. Their plane skidded down a runway and plowed through a crowded market, before catching fire and killing 47 people. The couple relived their ordeal with PEOPLE’s Sara Hammel:
BARRY: I had this feeling when we were getting on the airplane that we should be one of the first ones to board. It was chaotic. It wasn’t everyone standing in a nice line. Everyone was going for the door. We were apprehensive because in Goma the runway is very, very short. There’s no provision for anything to go wrong. And then, when we were taking off, I heard a bang in the front of the plane. I just thought right away, “We’re never going to be able to stop.” We were skidding down the runway. My daughter April said, “God, help us.” She was praying. We hit hard, and I lost my cellphone and glasses on impact. The businessman next to me was gone before I knew it.
MARYBETH: When I saw the flames and all the smoke, I wondered whether we’d get out. I don’t remember a huge impact, but I think I did break my nose. My son was stuck in the seat, and I think I’m the one who broke his leg pulling him out. I handed him to my husband.
BARRY: I was scrambling for my glasses. I felt so helpless. I looked across the aisle at Marybeth and saw the wing was on fire. All the fuel was stored there, and the tanks were full because the plane was going to go on to fly across Africa. My daughter said, “Dad, we’ve got to get out of here or we’re going to die.” The plane was full of smoke. There were bodies under the seats. Halfway out of the plane, I noticed I was carrying a notebook. I was trying to learn the days of the week in French out of this notebook. I was trying to get my son out of the plane, and I looked down and saw I still had an iron grip on this book with French words in it.
MARYBETH: April went to the front. She and another man saw a small hole. She said, “We’ve got to open this hole or we’re dead.” They broke off chunks of fuselage out of the side of the plane to enlarge the hole. There was a man who was down and said, “Help me, help me!” He was caught in a crack in the floor. I tried to pull. I pulled and pulled, and other people behind were mobbing us trying to get out. It was just horrible.
BARRY: We found the hole in the plane. Without my glasses, I didn’t want to just leap out. I handed my son to somebody and turned back to see if my wife was there.
MARYBETH: The moment we got out of the plane, we just said, “We’re alive!” But then we were frantically looking for our children. That’s when I got hysterical.
BARRY: My son was gone. We were running, looking for someone carrying a baby. It was chaos, and I couldn’t see very well. Thousands of people had come to see what had happened. A man came up with Andrew in his arms but was reluctant to give him to us because he expected Andrew would be with an African lady. That’s when I realized I still had his passport with me. I showed him that, and he handed our son to us. Then we were searching for our daughter. We were telling people in Swahili her height and that she was wearing red clothing. Somehow a man grabbed us both by the hand and started leading us away. The only English words he knew were ‘Be calm.’ He led us to the end of the street where an emergency vehicle took us to the hospital. Twenty minutes after we got there, April arrived and ran to us, screaming for joy. She thought we were dead. At the hospital they asked who they could call, and I said I didn’t even have one number I could remember. My cellphone and my satchel that had my contacts were burned. We lost everything. All we had was on our backs.
MARYBETH: The first night after the crash, I was reliving the whole thing and mourning for the poor people who did not make it.
BARRY: We felt like we didn’t do anything to be alive. We felt the plane should have blown up, and we should have been dead. We felt God took care of us.