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Mormonism LIVE: 033: President Nelson’s Flight of Death

Today We explore a story President Nelson has told for years about a flight he was on in the 1970’s. He reports the plane’s engine exploding, the wing catching fire, a death spiral by the plane, the chaos aboard, and the plane’s landing in a farmer’s field. This story had many questioning the truthfulness of his account but there was never a smoking gun to get to the truth of the matter………. until now.


Russell M. Nelson, From Heart to Heart: An Autobiography (Salt Lake City: Nelson, 1979)

Russell M. Nelson: Father, Surgeon, Apostle – Spencer J Condie: Author Russell M. Nelson, The Gateway We Call Death (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1995)


1.) One Engine on a small Two Engine plane Exploded.
2.) Said Engine caught fire.
3.) In the Explosion flammable material was spread to the plane and the plane itself was on fire.
4.) The plane did a “Death Spiral” which extinguished the fire
5.) The Pilot “turned on the Other Engine”
6.) The plane landed in a “Farmer’s Field”


 1.) The Date of the flight was reported as November 12, 1976
2.) He was flying from SLC to St. George to attend the inauguration of W. Rolfe Kerr as the president of Dixie College.
3.) Anytime a plane incurs a malfunction or there is a mechanical flight issue or pilot error the Law requires such to be recorded. The Explosion would necessitate a publicly available recorded log report. The plane on fire would necessitate a publicly available recorded log report. The Death Spiral would necessitate a publicly available recorded log report. The landing in a Farmer’s Field would necessitate a publicly available recorded log report.



1.) Engine never exploded and continued to run though rough
2.) There was no Engine Fire.
3.) The Plane itself was never on fire
4.) The Other Engine was never off
4.) The plane made a “Precautionary landing at the airport in Delta Utah and not a farmer’s field
5.) There are other smaller issues with number of passengers, length of flight, cutting fuel line to both engines, and the date of the flight but we grant some benefit of the doubt for distorted memory.

If the Church or its defenders want to claim the conclusion that this flight one day earlier is NOT the flight President Nelson is speaking about, then the burden of proof is on them to provide the evidence. To claim there was another “SKY WEST” flight also going from SLC TO SAINT GEORGE” that had “WORSE ISSUES” “ONE DAY LATER”, then provide the “MANDATORY PUBLICLY AVAILABLE FLIGHT REPORT” of said flight. Without such, said conclusion by the defenders would require more conjecture and allowances.

The Plane believed to be the One Nelson rode that day


12 thoughts on “Mormonism LIVE: 033: President Nelson’s Flight of Death”

  1. While I agree that the actual events of the flight did not occur in the way that he is portraying, I am not convinced that President Nelson is intentionally misrepresenting what actually happened. Rather, I believe that what this episode illustrates is the fallibility of human memory. I think that President Nelson truly thinks that he is portraying the events as he remembers them. His mistake is that he assumes his memories of the events of that day are infallible.

    It’s understood in human psychology that our memories are not nearly as reliable as we think they are. Most of us assume that our memories are like watching a video of what actually happened. However, the reality is that memory is more like a room of movie editors going through a bunch of old footage, cutting, splicing, and reworking the content in a way that makes sense in the present moment and for their current audience. The revised footage goes back into our memory storage, where it will be retrieved and go through the process again the next time we retrieve the memory. Since our memory always occurs in the present, and is filtered through our current mental “editors”, our memories can easily be changed over time.

    You’ve probably experienced this firsthand: maybe you and a family member argue about who is remembering an event correctly. Your memory of events feels real to you, and theirs feels real to them. Neither is trying to deceive the other. No one is immune to this phenomenon. For a interesting listen, here’s an account of a famous harmonica player (Larry Adler) and a spy who can’t remember if a house raid they both went on during WWII uncovered a room full of Nazi’s or a room full of knitting grannies:

    Since Nelson’s account is rooted in a documentable event and many of the details you uncovered coincide with his account, I think it’s highly likely that he is not making things up in the same way that Paul H Dunn was. I could easily see how many years of remembering and recounting this experience would have led him to unknowingly alter details of his memory of the event.

    Obviously, the fallibility of memory has implications for the whole restoration as well. Is it possible that many of the miracle stories we are familiar with are the result of our collective assumption that memories are (or should be) infallible? What implications does this have for the first vision? Can we trust prophets if they are susceptible to changing memories? I would love to hear your thoughts regarding this issue.

  2. Nelson’s flight of death story immediately reminded me of the “Free Brian Williams” episode Malcom Gladwell did in Revisionist History. It covers the inaccurate story Brian Williams told on the David Letterman Show of being shot down by an RPG in a helicopter in Iraq. This story destroyed his career.

    Gladwell explains how our memory works and how Williams could have gotten from the original (true) version of his story to the ultimate (embellished) version of his story that got him fired.

    When I first heard this episode, it answered all of the questions I had of how Joseph could have gotten from his first version of his First Vision story in 1832 to his later, completely different, official version of the story in 1838.

    Now, it explains how Nelson got from his memory of real events to the version he eventually told Dew.

  3. As a former FBI Special Agent and pilot/flight instructor, I have heard a lot of tall tales on the way to getting truth out of people. It’s comical to see how stories evolve and devolve to meet the needs of the teller. This is more than just innocent psychological variability of remembrances over time. This story is a case of classical pathological lying to get glory and shore up the ever waning paradigm that prophets/apostles get special protections from god, etc. I have also found that science based techniques to get to the truth of something are far more effective than the so called power of discernment that bishops, on up, are supposedly endowed with.

    In the course of an investigation, I once followed a bank robber to a Bishop’s storehouse one day where he and his accomplice wife had apparently snookered his bishop out of two heaping grocery carts full of assistance, on multiple occasions. Maybe he robbed the banks to get the tithing money he needed to pay in order to qualify for the assistance. Apparently that bishop’s power of discernment was turned off during those interviews.

    The airplane story “doesn’t fly” on the face of it for all the reasons you pointed out. This is every bit as much a witting fabrication as anything Paul H Dunn ever invented.

    This was a great episode. Nice work.

  4. THE CLAIMS PRESIDENT NELSON HAS MADE THAT WERE RED FLAGS should include the whole dramatic story itself.
    This is NOT the way it happens when one is faced with death. One is not thinking about how glad they are that they are wearing their temple garments or how happy they have been in their marriage.
    Adrenaline would have been pumping wildly if Russell’s account was accurate. Adrenaline is a flight or fight hormone NOT a “let’s think happily about my life and ignore that hysterical woman.”

    There is a group of 4 men on Youtube called The Behavior Panel. They were breaking down the story of the guy who claims he was in a whale’s mouth. At one point, one of these experts says, “That’s not the way it happens.” And he is right. I have been in a couple of pretty scary accidents and I didn’t give a thought to anyone or anything at that time – I was just a helpless, scared victim.

    1. Lol. As a professional pilot, I can say that any time you’re on an airplane and an engine quits, you’re in danger of dying. However, you’re chances of actually dying are determined by the variables being in your favor, ie. well trained pilot/pilots, minimal damage to the rest of the airplane that doesn’t jeopardize aircraft control, design and performance abilities of the aircraft to be able to operate with an inoperative engine, altitude available at the time the engine failed, type of terrain and surface the aircraft is forced to land on, the weather etc.

      Luck plays a role as well.

      To a terrified passenger like Nelson, with no flying experience, I’m sure he thought he was going to die.

      1. Do you sense you are also avoiding all the other contradictions of this story? the problem is beyond just being scared… and remember, he wasn’t scared… everyone else was.

  5. I had just started a new job as an executive for a water utility in California. I had broad responsibility over several primary business and regulatory functions of the utility. As a result of overseeing the utilities regulatory functions I needed to stay abreast of the water production operations which are regulated on many fronts including water quality. There are dozens of contaminants that must be tested for in wells that provide culinary water that humans drink and ingest through cooking and beverage making. Arsenic is a poison often found naturally in well water. There are regulation set forth by both federal and state governments as to how much arsenic can naturally be present before the well is shut down. The EPA standard is 10 parts per billion (ppm).

    The wells were tested periodically for arsenic. For each well, the amount of arsenic varied for each test. The test results had to be filed with the health department. If the amount of arsenic exceeded the maximum contaminant level (mcl), then the well had to be taken out of service. When’s well is taken out of service the amount of water no longer being pumped has to be made up from another source. Nearly always, the other source of water is significantly more expensive than the well water.

    While in attendance at a meeting between the Operations Vice President and the manage of water quality, the manager of water quality reported that a particular well had exceeded the mcl for arsenic. The Operations VP ordered that the official test results to be altered to reflect a lower mcl in order to not shut down the well which would in turn save a lot of money. Besides saving money it saved the company from various customer notification procedures and other requirements that were necessary to comply with once the well exceeded the mcl.

    Being new, I didn’t cause a scene at that meeting, over learning the company I had just started working for was falsifying water quality test results. Instead I quietly began investigating how often this was done and what the penalties were for falsifying test results. To my dismay, I found that falsifying reports to regulatory agencies was common practice in the industry to avoid the regulatory burdens associated with an out of compliance well.

    In my case I gathered the facts and risks and presented them to the President, Chairman of the board and other top executives. A short time later the Operations VP retired early and strict orders were given to not falsify test results.

    I say this because I have first hand knowledge that companies purposely minimize reports that go to regulatory agencies in order to avoid burdensome requirements placed upon them when a incident occurs which triggers regulatory compliance procedures. I would not doubt for a moment that the airline which flew Russell M. Nelson minimized the report with respect to the incident in which President Nelson was a part of. I trust President Nelson’s version much more than the airlines version.

    Smearing a person’s reputation over as scant as evidence as you have presented says much about your motivations.

      1. I looked in vain for this pattern of lying you reference. The only source I could find was Nemo the Mormon. I listened to his descriptions of President Nelson lying. I already soundly refuted the crown jewel of Nemo’s lying claims which was the story about of the airplane ride from Salt Lake to St. George. You have two versions of what happened that day. One version from a person who experienced it and the other version found on a Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) report signed by James H. Stevenson. The report is as follows:

        Second incident occurred Nov. 11, 1976 involving Piper PA 31 N74985. Pilot experienced rough engine on scheduled fight between Salt Lake City and St. George. 3 passengers on board. Engine was feathered and precautionary landing made at Delta, Utah, per instructions in company manual. Investigation revealed cylinder base studs sheered. As result of occurrence Sky West changed maintenance procedures by checking torque studs at each 100 hour inspection. No damage to aircraft. No injuries to crew or passengers.

        To claim this proves President Nelson lied is ludicrous. First of all, this report is obviously a summary taken from other sources. The other sources are obviously the original Sky West Airlines incident reports filed by Sky West Airlines with the CAB. The problem with using this summary to verify a claim of lying is that:

        the original incident reports from which the summary is taken are not included. It is pure speculation to assume a summary would provide the same level of detail as an original incident report.
        We don’t know if the original report filed by Sky West consists of one page or ten pages.
        Because the original reports aren’t available we don’t know how accurate the summary by Mr. Stevenson is.
        We do not know if the original reports filed by Sky West accurately describe the incident that took place. There are innumerable motivations including financial ones by Sky West to understate or minimize an incident that occurred.
        The date of the report is different than the date President Nelson flew from Salt Lake to St. George. The date President Nelson flew to St. George is not in dispute. Therefore, one of two things occurred: a) the report has nothing to do with the flight President Nelson took, b) the report is about the flight President Nelson took and is in error. If a), then it is disingenuous to infer that the report contradicts President Nelson’s account. If b), then one of the most basic facts of the report is in error which begs the question as to the validity of other facts in the report.

        We don’t know if President Nelson is lying about this incident. We do know that humans err, and one source of error could be the report in question. This could come about in several ways. One way the Civil Aeronautics Board could be in error is that it incorrectly summarizes the report from Sky West which correctly describes the incident. Another way the report could be in error could is that it incorrectly summarizes a report from Sky West which incorrectly describes the incident. Another way the report could be in error is that it correctly summarizes an incorrect report from Sky West. Finally Nemo could be right, and it could correct describe a report from Sky West that correctly describes the incident.

        One form of dishonesty occurs when you make a list of known and provable facts and equate an unknown and unprovable fact with known facts in order to try to mislead the person you are trying to convince that the known fact is equivalent to the unknown facts in such a manner as to try to make them believe an unknown fact is actually known. The key to knowing the fallacy of this argument is when the person attempting to misrepresent says, “The fact has been accurate on at least 4 to 5 occasions, the 4 to 5 other occasions prove the fact is accurate on this occasion. Four to five accurate mathematical equations do not make an inaccurate mathematical equation accurate. Four or five accurate scientific facts, don’t make an inaccurate scientific fact accurate. This process of misusing known facts is known as equivocation. I suggest you look up synonyms for equivocation.

        Another form of dishonesty is when a person claims certain list of facts are correct when they are not correct. Then that list of incorrect facts are used to validate a separate incorrect fact. In a list of six incorrect facts the artifice occurs when any of the other five incorrect facts are used to validate the sixth incorrect fact. Then a different or second fact can be pulled from the list and the remaining four facts along with the original sixth fact that was inaccurately validated in the first instance is used to validate the second fact. This can be repeated six times until all six incorrect facts are validated as correct. This is known as circular reasoning and is a classic fallacy.

        I believe this circular reasoning fallacy is what you are engaged in when you say “He (President Nelson) has lied on at least 4 to 5 occasions, It is a pattern of behavior”.

        Let’s start with the claimed lie about the Shanghai Temple. You have no information that President Nelson’s announcement of that Temple means that he lied about having approval from Chinese authorities. China, like many other nations has different levels of government. In China there is a Provincial level of government as well as a National level of government controlled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) .

        It is possible, that certain LDS Church authorities lobbied government at the Provincial level to obtain approval to construct a temple in Shanghai. These Provincial officials could have represented to Church officials that they believed they could get the necessary approvals from the National government. Obviously, the Church made the announcement too soon, but making an announcement too soon is not a lie. You may argue that they jumped the gun, that they foolishly made an announcement before all of the necessary approvals we obtained but you cannot argue that announcing the Temple before all authorizations were given is a lie.

        You may argue that since the Church has not made public, why they believed they had authority to construct when they didn’t, is an attempt to hide their lie. Trying to hide or cover up a lie makes no sense to reasonable people, because any public explanation by the Church would embarrass the officials they believed had given the approvals and that would be counter productive to getting authority at some future date to construct a Temple in Shanghai. If the Church is still actively pursuing approvals in China, which is highly probable, then this may still be true at a future date. That is definitely not a lie. To claim otherwise is a stretch of incredulity so far reaching as to be laughable.

        To color President Nelson’s statements about the Shanghai temple as lies, you have to accept that the CCP is an honest government. It is universally known that the CCP is not an honest government. They routinely violate human rights, they deny democracy to their citizens, and they give no freedom of speech to their citizens, the very freedom used to falsely claim President Nelson is a liar. Isn’t it ironic that it takes the word of a government known to lie and which denies freedom of speech to its citizens, to make the claim President Nelson is a liar.

        Now I’ve deconstructed two of the supposed lies by President Nelson. That deconstruction demonstrably shows two of the 4 or 5 lies are indeed, not lies.

        Now let us turn to the claimed lie by President Nelson when he stated, “requirements to enter the Temple have not changed”. Here the supposed lie is that historically Blacks could not hold the priesthood and when President Kimball authorized Blacks to hold the Priesthood in 1978 that such a change constituted a change in requirements to enter the Temple. Huh! Are you kidding? This argument is so inane that only persons predisposed to call President Nelson a liar would give it any serious thought. Please tell me how Blacks being allowed the priesthood is or is not a requirement to enter the temple. It’s nonsensical on its face. Now holding the priest is a requirement and that did not change when Blacks were given the priesthood. Anyone who makes that argument with respect to what President Nelson said is lulu.

        Please do not make some argument back to me that who can enter the temple and the requirements to enter the temple are equivalent. One is a person and the other a precept. Is a cat and a commandment the same thing. Are dogs and dogma equivalent? When you prove to me that cats and commandments and dogs and dogma are indistinguishable then I will cede the argument to you and agree that President Nelson lied.

        Now I have proven that 3 of the 4 or 5 lies told by President Nelson which establish a pattern are not lies. There seems to not be a pattern.

        The next lie supposedly told by President Nelson that “even the pandemic has not been able to slow down the onward March of his truth”. The supposed proof of lying here is that the fact that convert baptisms declined during the pandemic and children of record decreased. Convert baptisms and children of record is not the only measure of Church progress. The number of proxy temple ordinances decreased by a far larger number.

        The “onward March of his truth” isn’t some statistical measure but is really measured by the changes in the hearts and minds of those seeking to follow Christ. It includes seeking forgiveness of sins and showing faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. It includes Christlike acts of service to those in need including bearing one another’s burdens that they may be light, feeding the poor and needy, attending to the widows and fatherless. My elderly widowed mother bore testimony to me in private that she never experienced more acts of kindness from here Ward members than during the pandemic. The onward march of truth includes intensity and sincerity of daily prayers. It includes daily scripture reading, and seeking out our ancestors.

        President Nelson never gave an objective measure of what the onward march of truth meant. To you it means convert baptisms but to me it means all those things described in the preceding paragraph. By your definition he is lying. By mine he is not. If lies are not universal to all who hear or read what he said, then it cannot be a lie. For something to be a lie it must universally be a lie. Otherwise it simply a difference in perception of the various hearers. There is no axiom that your perception is more valid than my perception. You have every right to call it a lie based upon your understanding and I have very right to believe it is not a lie under my understanding. When it’s a matter of perception, it is by definition not a lie. If you don’t understand this, you don’t have the vocabulary and the cognitive ability to make any claim about any person anywhere being a liar about any subject. If you do, you will be right only randomly which would give you no credibility.

        Now I have showed 4 of the 4 or 5 lies told by President Nelson are in fact not lies. Where is this pattern of lying you speak of?

        Now let’s go to the next lie supposedly told by President Nelson. That is that is the use of the words Mormon Church vs the use of the words The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. This is simply another inane argument that no serious person believes has substance. You can sight all the times President Monson and President Hinckley called it the Mormon Church and contrast that to President Nelson’s emphasis on using the name The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. It simply is not a serious argument that President Nelson is lying. If you think it is and try to convince me it is, then I have no respect for your intellect. This falls very much on line with the argument of because people have different perceptions of what is said, it doesn’t mean it’s a lie.

        There are now 5 times supposed lies by President Nelson have been debunked. 5 out of 4 or five means there is no pattern of lying. Zero, nada, zilch history of lies by President Nelson.

        Let’s now go to the next lie President Nelson supposedly told. This supposed lie has to do with the policy issued in November 2015 with regards to children of LGBTQ parents not being allowed to be baptized until they turn 18 and can decide as adults on their own. Furthermore, same sex marriage was considered apostasy and would result in excommunication, meaning loss of Church membership. Then approximately three and one half years later, in 2019 the policy was reversed. Reversal of policy is not a lie. The President of the Church when the policy was made was Thomas S. Monson. Russell M. Nelson was the President when it was reversed.

        There are various fireside talks and General Conference talks where President Nelson explains the reversal. Explaining the reversal is not a lie. President Nelson explained that The Church leaders went through a process when setting the policy and went through a similar process in reversing the policy. He explained the sincere beliefs of those involved in the setting and reversal that it was revelation.

        Now sincere beliefs of what one person or a group of people believe is true is, even if that belief turns out not to be true, does not constitute a lie. While all lies are untrue, the corollary is that not all untruths are lies. This is obvious from Copernicus who challenged the false belief that the earth was the center of the universe, known as geocentrism, by making the claim that the sun was the center of the universe, or the belief in heliocentrism.

        At the time Copernicus made this claim the best scientific minds at the time believed in geocentrism. Through observation of planets in the night sky Copernicus proved by 1514 that the earth and the other planets revolved around the sun. Not everyone believed Copernicus and a great debate followed that lasted decades and decades until finally the great scientific minds agreed Copernicus was right. Copernicus’s heliocentric model was the primary theory of how the universe worked until in 1925 when galactocentrism replaced heliocentrism as the primary model of the universe. A couple of short decades later, galactocentrism was replaced by the Big Bang theory as the primary model of the universe. For centuries very smart knowledgeable scientists sincerely believed things that were untrue. These men taught the untruths to students on universities. They were not liars. They believed they were telling the truth.

        Now we have a fifth time where President Nelson was accused of lying and we can see that he was not lying for the fifth time. The pattern displayed by President Nelson is one of honesty.

        The lack of objectiveness, the shoddy research, and the outright dishonesty used to claim President Nelson is a liar is shameful. I have Proved President Nelson is not a liar and an honest person would apologize and remove all posts claiming he did lie. I suspect either intellect, ego, or an evil heart will prevent you from doing that.

        1. Thank you so much for that. I am stunned at the time and energy anti-mormons are putting in to attacking every aspect of the church. Do they not have something better to do. How about figuring out how to bring souls to Christ. Enlighten us with goodness and bring us closer to Christ….The things you are doing as an anti mormon community are simply unChristlike.

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