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An LDS Prophet and His Fish Stories

by Sharon Lindbloom
11 August 2021

In the mid-1970s Russell M. Nelson, the current prophet/president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was a passenger on a small plane that was in trouble. An engine exploded, flaming oil gushed across the outside of the aircraft, and the plane began to dive. “We were spinning down to our death,” President Nelson recounted; he expected to die.

Or so he said.

President Nelson most recently told this story in a video message posted online by the LDS church in March of 2021. Church News reports,

“‘Throughout that dramatic, unexpected experience, I was surprisingly calm,’ [President Nelson] recalled. ‘My entire life flashed before me. While approaching what seemed to be certain death, I was at peace. I knew that my wife and I were sealed to each other eternally, and our children were sealed to us. Thanks to the Lord, I knew we would all be together again.

“’I was at peace, ready to meet my maker.’” (“President Nelson invites all to feel ‘the peace and hope of Easter’ by focusing on the Savior,” Church News (online), 28 March 2021)

President Nelson said he stayed calm even as he knew he was going down to his death. But the spiral dive of the plane extinguished the flames. The pilot regained control of the aircraft, was able to make an emergency landing in a field, and all was well. President Nelson survived to tell the story — which he has shared publicly many times over the ensuing years. But all is not as it seems.

Recently, it has been discovered that President Nelson’s story is actually comprised of a tiny bit of truth embellished with a whole lot of fiction. The July 22nd Mormonism LIVE podcast titled “President Nelson’s Flight of Death” explains in great detail the specifics of the research that has led to the conclusion that this story is mostly a fabrication. After painstakingly tracking down and consolidating the details that were divulged through the many retellings of this event, researchers were able to pinpoint, to a high degree of certainty, the plane that President Nelson had been on. Accessing the Civil Aeronautics Board report for that flight, this is what they found:

“…incident occurred Nov. 11, 1976…Pilot experienced rough engine on scheduled flight between Salt Lake City and St. George. 3 passengers on board. Engine was feathered and precautionary landing made at Delta, Utah…No damage to aircraft. No injuries to crew or passengers.” (Civil Aeronautics Board Reports, Volume 73, 1090)

President Nelson’s story is inconsistent with the flight report in several notable ways. To list a few of them, according to the flight report:

  • An engine did not explode (though an engine did run rough)
  • An engine did not catch fire
  • Burning oil was not poured out all over the plane
  • The plane did not make an emergency landing out in a field (instead, it made a precautionary landing at the Delta, Utah airport)

Furthermore, the plane never took its passengers “spinning down” toward their deaths.

The natural fear and concern that would certainly be experienced when flying in a plane with a rough-running engine should not be minimized, yet the “dramatic, unexpected experience” of near-death that President Nelson speaks of did not happen.

This is not the first time President Nelson has been outed for fabricating faith-promoting stories. In 2009 he and his wife, Wendy, were victims of robbers while visiting Mozambique in southeastern Africa. Reported at the time as a robbery by armed assailants (who stole a Rolex watch and a cell phone), President Nelson changed the story, years later claiming the intent of the assailants was to kill him and kidnap his wife. But the perpetrators’ “malicious intent” was foiled by angels: “A gun to my head failed to fire. And my wife was suddenly released from their hideous grasp…We know we were protected by angels round about us” (published in “When Angels Saved President Russell M. Nelson’s Life (+What We Know About Heavenly Messengers),” LDSLiving, April 2, 2018).

President Nelson enjoys telling another story on occasion, a “faith-promoting example of missionary work.” This one involves a married couple who were introduced to the LDS church and baptized by President Nelson in the 1950s. For President Nelson’s biography (that had been slated to be published by Deseret Book in 2019), this small kernel of truth blossomed into a miracle-filled tale that included a chance meeting with an unknown woman in a hat, President Nelson posing spiritually prompted questions, and the woman experiencing an important premonitory/prophetic dream that resulted in her being ready with the answers to those questions. Family of the couple featured in the story knew that these things (and others) had never happened and spoke out. When the fictitious material was brought to the attention of the book’s publisher, the entire tale was removed from the biography (Ryan McKnight, “False Story Removed From Newest Book on the Life of Mormon President Russell M. Nelson,” April 9, 2019).

Apparently, the current Mormon prophet is fond of telling “fish stories” in order to make his personal faith or his chosen religion look magnificent.

It’s been noted in the media that President Nelson likes to talk about how he receives revelations directly from God. He wakes in the middle of the night, grabs a lighted pen and paper, and writes down the impressions he receives: go to the Dominican Republic; make a video about gratitude; correct the name of the church; etc. President Nelson claims that the many changes he has instituted in the church while he’s been the prophet are according to the mind and the will of the Lord. But couldn’t it be that his prodigious revelation stories are fabrications as well? Given President Nelson’s track record when talking about the miraculous, it’s definitely a question worth asking.

The prophet/president of the LDS church, Russell M. Nelson, is a man who is known to fabricate stories and present them as fact. While he claims that one must stay on Mormonism’s covenant path in order to gain eternal life with God the Father, God actually says otherwise.

Shortly before His crucifixion, Jesus encouraged His disciples with a promise that, though He was going away, they would see Him again; eventually they would be with Him in His Father’s house (see John 14:1-6). Jesus told his friends that they knew the way to where He was going, but Thomas, incredulous, said, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus answered and told them the way, but He didn’t tell them to tend to their temple ordinances like President Nelson does. Jesus didn’t instruct them on the necessity of an eternal (temple) marriage. He didn’t direct them to stay on the covenant path. What did Jesus say is the way to eternal life? He declared, I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”

Jesus Christ is much more trustworthy than Russell M. Nelson and his fish stories. If you currently follow Mormonism and President Nelson, I extend an ardent invitation to you to follow Jesus instead.

To see Sharon’s other news articles, click here.

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