Two men sat at a bus stop on the outskirts of Salzburg waiting for the bus that would take them to their next home teaching appointment. Both converts to the Church, they differed more in age and experience than they did in enthusiasm for the gospel of Jesus Christ. It was the 1970’s, and a generation divided the two men. The elder of the two, a kindly, balding Brother Herbert Fränkler, in his sixties, turned to his sprightly junior companion, the newly-baptized, Franz Kolb, and told him a thrilling survival story that Brother Kolb could recollect in detail almost fifty years later.
During World War II, a young Herbert Fränkler was drafted into the German military. He went into the Airforce and was assigned as a test pilot at a two-seater plane manufacturing factory in Berlin. When the planes would come out of the factory, his team would be the first to test fly them. The idea was to get the plane off the ground, do a quick U-turn to the runway, and land back down. The job seemed simple enough, but it was risky to be the first to fly. There were three teams of two pilots: the pilot and the co-pilot. Because the test pilots saw the risks of being the first to fly this new machinery, they cast die to see which team would go first. Fränkler’s comrade’s team was chosen.
As they rolled out the airplane onto the tarmac, the two men got ready. They climbed in and secured themselves into their seats. The flight time was a couple minutes. The plane began to roll (10 seconds and counting). Fränkler kept time and watched the plane gather speed (45 seconds) as it rolled down the tarmac. He watched the wheels lift off (60 seconds) and the plane lift into the air (65 seconds). The plane flew higher (90 seconds) then began to curve to make the U-turn. As it made its way around to land (120 seconds), all of a sudden, there was a loud BANG. In a cloud of fire, the plane exploded, and its wreckage crumbled heavy to the ground.
In horror, Fränkler and the others ran to the wreckage hoping to find the pilots alive, but it was hopeless. The two pilots died in the explosion.
The officials went back to the manufacturing plant, took apart the plane, looked at every inch, and could find nothing wrong with the plane the unfortunate pilots had flown. They assembled another plane and decided to try again. Another test team was chosen. Again, everyone watched, the men were even more nervous this time. Fränkler watched as the pilots strapped themselves in and took off. Everything looked good from where Fränkler and the others stood. As the plane climbed into the sky (70 seconds), they had hopes it was just a glitch with the first plane, but as the second plane started to make the U-turn and descend again, all hope vanished (120 seconds). Another explosion. Fire. Wreckage. Two dead bodies. Fränkler had real concern that he and his co-pilot were about to meet their Maker. They were the only team left to choose.
Fränkler and his companion knew that when they climbed into the next plane, they would only have about 120 seconds to live. The next plane rolled onto the tarmac. No issues found; no changes made. Two inexplicable explosions on otherwise perfectly operating aircrafts. Four pilots dead. It was a bleak picture to step into. Fränkler was nervous, but he had no choice. His turn was up, and he and his mate entered the plane. They strapped themselves in. The pilot (Fränkler being co-pilot) told Fränkler to start counting.
They started moving down the tarmac, Fränkler counting in his head backwards from 120. Fränkler prayed desperately in his heart saying, “God, if you are there, please help me survive this. If you are here for me now, I promise to be there for you when you need me.” They gained speed and lifted off. 60 seconds to live. Nothing seemed amiss in the aircraft. 40 seconds to go. As they prepared to make the U-turn, all of a sudden, Fränkler noticed a tiny brown speck on the window. He looked at it curiously and noticed it got larger. 20 seconds to live. The brown spot grew. They started to turn the plane, and Frankler got a sudden burst of inspiration. He told his pilot to turn off the right engine immediately. He did, and in the next second, a flash of brown liquid, a mixture of oil and gas, sprayed onto the windshield of the aircraft. But no fire. They were able to make an emergency landing safely.
Upon investigation of the right engine, the officers found that a tiny part of the mechanics in the engine had been intentionally filed down. It was imperceptible on the ground level, but as the air pressure increased as it rose in the air, the piece would split, causing the explosion. It was sabotage. They traced the faulty engineering to a couple workers along the conveyer belt in the factory and executed them as war criminals. The problem of the exploding planes was solved.
Throughout his life, Fränkler remembered the promise he made to God that day. He knew he owed his life to God, to that prayer and to the inspiration that came to him in the cockpit. After the war, he continued on with his life, knowing that when God called on him to be a part of His work, he would answer the call. He allowed missionaries from different religions to enter his home. He would talk to them, but never felt connected to their messages. That is, not until two young men in white shirts, ties, and nametags knocked on his door many years later.
As the Elders began teaching, Fränkler heard his own voice from years ago come into his mind: “If you are here for me now, I promise to be there for you when you need me.” He recognized his prayer from so many years before. As he listened to the missionaries’ message about faith, repentance, of God’s love and mercy, and of the Savior’s atonement, Fränkler knew that what they taught was the true gospel of Jesus Christ. He felt that God had finally called on him to be a part of His divine work. Brother Fränkler agreed to be baptized. He later moved to Salzburg, met and married his sweet Hertha, and both were faithful members in the branch for the rest of their lives.
It was in Salzburg that Brother Fränkler and the young Franz Kolb met and became home-teaching companions. Brother Kolb became good friends with this man and his sweet wife. They were pillars of faithfulness and love of God. At their deaths, they left this world filled with peace and gratitude for being allowed to be a part of God’s work on the earth. Before Brother Fränkler’s death, he made Brother Kolb promise to tell his story to the world. A story of a God’s infinite mercy, and the promise that blessings come to those who dedicate themselves to the Lord’s will.
About the Author:
Holly lives in Germany with her husband, Markus. She served in the Russia St. Petersburg mission. She graduated from BYU with a BA and MA in English and from the University of Edinburgh with a MSc in book history and material culture. Now she studies German and is learning to live as an expat in Europe.