Keith Jones tribute: The man who found God after his plane crashed in the Bermuda Triangle and left him stranded in shark-infested waters
PUBLISHED: 14:17 08 November 2017 | UPDATED: 09:38 09 November 2017
Remarkable story of naval pilot turned missionary from Folkestone
A thanksgiving service took place this week for a former naval pilot who experienced a complete engine failure while flying over the Bermuda Triangle - and was forced to bail out over shark infested seas but lived to tell the tale.
Keith Jones, from Folkestone, died last month, aged 71, after a long battle with cancer. A former chief executive of the Folkestone-based Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) – the world’s largest humanitarian airline - his life pivoted around the remarkable event which won him an award for his bravey.
The pilot had to crash land his jet, at speed, into the sea in complete darkness and then found himself in a flimsy dinghy surrounded by sharks.
He had previously recalled: “I was flying a night sortie from HMS Ark Royal through the Bermuda Triangle, when I experienced simultaneous failure in both engines. I tried to bail out, but one of my shoulder straps remined intact. I had to ditch the plane in the sea in complete darkness, at 120mph.
“But, I survived and managed to clamber out into a tiny yellow dinghy with two sharks swimming around me. I should have been dead – but it was proof that God had other plans for me.”
Awarded the ‘Green Endorsement’ for bravery in 1973 which stated how he ‘calmly took control of the situation’. He initiated a mayday call and made sure his aircrew safely bailed out, saving their lives.
As the end of his Naval commission drew near, Keith and his wife Lin explored ways they could use their faith to help others.
In 1978, he joined MAF as a relief pilot. His first position was in Chad, where he and Lin accepted a two-year post in N’Djamena. Civil war relocated their service to Kenya, where he flew into Tanzania and Sudan – which became their permanent home from December 1979.
After five years as missionaries in Africa, the couple returned to the UK where they continued to serve MAF, travelling the country and raising awareness of the charity’s international work. In 1984, Lin was diagnosed with myeloid leukaemia, and died just before Christmas 1985.
Keen to continue his charity service, Mr Jones became director of development at MAF UK where he met his second wife Ruth Ewart, who he married in 1987. They welcomed their son David two years later. He became MAF UK’s chief executive in 1994, a role he fulfilled until 2006.
His widow Ruth remembers her husband as a multi-talented, highly intelligent man of great wit and humour. She said: “He was a real inspiration in the way he treated others and a wonderful, wise, loving, supportive husband and father.”
A thanksgiving service was held at St John’s Church, Folkestone on November 6.