The fate of Liu Xiaolian, a woman general in China's air force, hung in the balance for nearly five minutes, 25 years ago.
On September 20, 1982, Liu, who was then a captain, took off in a transport plane with a crew from a military airport in Shijiazhuang, capital of North China's Hebei Province.
At an altitude of 700 meters, something went wrong: A friendly fighter plane accidentally bumped into the front of their plane.
After Liu recovered from the initial shock of the incident, she realized that her plane had plummeted more than 400 meters and was about to crash. "Save the plane!" she recalled shouting, as she grasped the control stick, but the plane was in trouble and much of its equipment was dysfunctional. With all her strength, and with some help from the crew, they were able to level the plane when it was about 200 meters above the ground.
As Liu was preparing for the forced landing, she noticed fighters taking off on the runway. It was obvious that her plane might collide with a fighter if she attempted to land then and there.
She managed to touch down on a patch of grass next to the runway, and succeeded.
It took Liu five minutes to regain control and land. Later, mechanics said that the plane would have split into pieces just three minutes later had she not landed it.
The safe landing earned Liu a First Class Merit, conferred by the Central Military Commission in 1982. She was later given another major challenge: the job of flying a large transport plane over the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.
She completed the job and became the first woman pilot to fly over the plateau. She was then sent to study at the Air Force Command Institute in Beijing. After her graduation in 1986, she became one of the first female commanders in the air force.
Liu, who was China's youngest woman captain in 1969 at the age of 20, managed to fly seven types of aircrafts during her career, the first woman to accomplish this in China.
She still flies from time to time, although she is shouldering a new responsibility as the vice-president of the Air Force Command Institute and the vice-chairperson of the All-China Women's Federation.
"Flying is my job, and more: It is what I was born to do and live for," she says.
(China Daily 08/01/2007 page22)