REGION — Jeanette Chaffee was asleep aboard TWA Flight 840 on April 2, 1986 when she was awoken by a deafening earsplitting boom, thick smoke and the smell that she likened to Independence Day fireworks.
Through the smoky, shrapnel-filled haze and dangling oxygen masks, she could see no separation between the plane’s ceiling and the blue sky, and three rows of empty seats once occupied with passengers.
“I thought I was going to die,” Chaffee said. “As the plane flew for 40 minutes, every second of the 40 minutes I knew that this was our coffin, because we had no hope.”
In her darkest hour, Chaffee, an accomplished Christian interviewer, teacher and author, turned to prayer.
“I kept saying, Jesus help us, Jesus please help us,” Chaffee said. “In those moments, I really did feel the peace of God with me, because I knew in the next seconds, I would be seeing the Lord.”
As it turns out, Chaffee and 117 other people survived what was later determined to be a terrorist bombing, which killed four people — including a 9-month-old girl — and injured seven others. Her seat was 14 feet away from the bomb.
Chaffee — who has spent the past 35 years of her life recounting inspirational stories of famed leaders, athletes, musicians and dignitaries — would have her own story of salvation to tell.
Her story, which she has entitled “Terror in the Sky,” along with 23 of what she called her most inspirational interviews, in her book “Extravagant Graces: 23 Inspiring Stories of Facing Impossible Odds.” Chaffee, who lives in rural Oregon, will appear at Barnes and Noble in Escondido and Encinitas Nov. 11 and Nov. 14, respectively, to sign her book as well as talk about her story.
“The stories of these people’s lives are real and powerful,” said Chaffee, who was first published as a 9-year-old after winning a writing contest in elementary school. “They aren’t always happy stories, but they show how God helps us in our most difficult personal challenges.
“I went through my treasure trove to find the best of the best stories, people who survived personal trials and tests with God’s help,” Chaffee said.
Chaffee vividly recalls her first interview in 1977, when she mustered up the courage to ask several questions of famed Christian author Elisabeth Elliot while she was driving her to the airport.
“I thought to myself, ‘I can ask questions and people will answer them, and they are questions that people want to know the answer to,’” Chaffee said. “I smartened up and got a recorder the next time, but over the year, I’ve been able to interview so many people because I have no agenda, and apparently do not come across threatening, event though they know they will be asked personal questions.
Among the stories featured in her book are that of Anne Graham Lotz, the daughter of former famed televangelist Billy Graham; and a familiar name to North County residents, former NFL tight end Donnie Dee, whose son Johnny Dee was a standout basketball player at Rancho Buena Vista High School and the University of San Diego.
In his interview with Chaffee, Dee revealed his struggles growing up with a father who was an alcoholic and his acceptance of Christianity in college at Tulsa University.
“Dad was never abusive or neglectful; he just wasn’t the dad I longed to have,” Donnie Dee said in the book. “He was a good and gentle man but not a Christian. Dad failed as a husband. He failed, in some ways, as a father.”
Dee’s story is complemented by a glowing tribute written by his son, Johnny, who said that his father has served as a role model as he tries to set an example as a Christian athlete.
“Looking back on what Dad taught me, I now see why it’s so important to be motivated to please the Lord all the time,” the younger Dee wrote. “I praise God for giving me a dad who always points me to Jesus.”
Chaffee will be at the Escondido Barnes and Noble from noon to 3 p.m. Nov. 11 and the Encinitas Barnes and Noble from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 14. For more information about her book, visit her website at jeanettechaffee.com.