On Sunday March 1, 2015, at 7:20 PM, Southwest flight 4363 departed Orlando International Airport on a heading of 045 degrees and at a speed of 260 knots. As the aircraft cleared the coast of Florida pilot Skip Wiley reported to air traffic control that the plane had struck a large flock of gulls, disabling both engines. Several passengers, including Eddie Jones, seated by a window seat in the rear of the plane, saw the left engine on fire. Wiley discussed with air traffic control the possibility of attempting to land at the Daytona Beach International Airport, however, he quickly determined ditching the plane in the ocean was his only option.
At 7:48 PM, air traffic control lost contact with Southwest flight 4363. The Coast Guard was notified and a rescue mission launched. The debris field stretched from several miles off Flager Beach towards the Gulf Stream. Despite two days of search and rescue, no survivors were recovered.
As fate would have it, Jones celebrated his birthday a few days earlier at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. Serving as faculty on the Asheville Christian Writers’ Conference, Jones was honored with an impromptu birthday party. The event was the result of a Facebook picture that had recently resurfaced on the page of Cindy Sproles. Despite numerous attempts to explain that Jones’ birthday was March 14, not February 14, congratulatory birthday wishes for Jones poured in. With a nod to Mark Twain, Jones is reported to have said:
The reports of my birthday are greatly exaggerated.
Psalm 139:16 states: “You saw me before I was born. The days allotted to me had all been recorded in your book, before any of them ever began.” Perhaps God – taking into account Jones’ premature birthday celebration – determined the gifted writer had overextended his stay on earth. Or maybe March 1 really was his time to go.
In any case, Jones may be somewhere off the coast of the Bahamas, a place he loved and where someday hoped to retire. Or maybe Jones faked this account of his death and is sailing in the Caribbean with his friend, Stu Summers.
We may never know.