Alliance Church Member Was First to Fly Former Chilean President to Disaster Area

pilotby Isaac Espinoza, presidential pilot in the Chilean Air Force

Editor’s Note: Isaac and his wife, Francesca, are members of the Church of the Vineyard, the Alliance congregation in Penalolen. Following is his eyewitness testimony of the first few hours following the 8.8 magnitude earthquake that rocked Chile on February 27, 2010.

On the night of February 27, I was on call-which meant that I had to be ready to fly wherever the President needed to go in an emergency.

I was honored by God to be assigned to the president at the young age of 26 when there are many other, higher-ranking, more experienced pilots in the Air Force. In Chile it is not easy to be an evangelical, much less an officer, in the Air Force with the assignment that I have. On the morning of February 27, I had returned home from a birthday party at 3 o’clock. It was at 3:37 a.m. that the catastrophic earthquake hit.


Chile is a country of earthquakes, so when the shaking started, I tried to go back to sleep.  Within seconds, the shaking became terrifying. I ran to get our little daughter from her room, and Francesca and I made our way to the living room. By this time our eighth floor apartment was swinging wildly back and forth in a 6-foot arc. Outside the window I could see the electric wires snapping and lighting up the sky like lightning. We couldn’t do anything but wait until it stopped.

It got so bad that we thought the building would collapse and that would be the end of us. I felt surprisingly calm, but I give thanks to God for His mercy in sparing us. Our apartment was not seriously damaged, although the apartments below us have suffered.

I knew that I had to get to the base immediately, so I took Francesca and our child to my mother-in-law’s home and left, knowing that my wife would have to report to the hospital where she would be needed as a medical intern. It was not easy to leave my wife and young daughter, not knowing what would come next, but I made my way to the base.  There were no gas stations open, the roads were cracked in many places, and I had to convince police that I needed to get through to the base.

A City in Chaos

I was ordered to fuel up my helicopter and pick up the president. We had no cell phones, no communication, no lights in Santiago-it was like flying in the Stone Age. The president headed toward the most affected zone, a city where my mother lived and where my grandparents pastor a church. Many of the houses were made of adobe, and they collapsed into rubble. I flew directly over my mother’s house and praised God that it was still standing.

 As we headed toward the coast, I was not prepared for what we saw. The tsunami had taken half of the coastal towns. Houses still intact were floating in the ocean. Freighters were washed five blocks into shore. The president was speechless, staring at the damage and the loss of life.

 We then flew to the city of Concepcion, one of the worst hit areas. The city was in chaos-no lights, water, electricity, or food. The people were in panic at every aftershock. I flew for 11 hours that fateful Saturday without food or sleep. 

Refined by Fire

As I close, I reflect on the way many people ask why God could permit such a disaster. I am reminded of the Bible verse that says, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith-of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire-may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:6-7).

Remember that God has mercy on those who are merciful. I know that this temporary sadness will help us to grow spiritually and that many will come to believe in Jesus as a result of this tragic disaster.

God bless you. Please pray for us.

What You Can Do

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Ten cents of every dollar given to this project will be divided between the CAMA Advance Fund and the Great Commission Fund to cover travel, administrative, and logistical costs of ministering to the needs of those affected by this disaster. As far as possible, the expressed preference of a donor will be respected and followed. In the event that this gift is oversubscribed, any remaining funds will be used for future disaster relief efforts.


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