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Former atheist who cried out to God during helicopter crash says faith changed him

Dillon Beatson: “One thing I think cradle Catholics don’t fully appreciate or don’t understand is how good they have it.”

“GOD, please don’t let me die.”

Private Dillon Beatson had been an atheist up until the moment the helicopter he was riding in crashed during a training exercise near Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates in September 2013.

“In that crash, I called out for God; I asked him, ‘God, please don’t let me die’, and that just sort of confused me because I was like, ‘Why would I call out to God, I don’t think he’s real’,” Private Beatson said.

He had been baptised in the Church and even went to Catholic school at St Monica’s in Richmond, New South Wales, but had been a “staunch atheist” through his teenage and adult years.

“Anti-theist would be a better description of how I was,” he said.

He had thought belief in God was “rubbish” and “everyone who believes in Him is believing in fairytales”.

But, even so, Private Beatson had cried out to God in the 10 seconds it took for the helicopter to go down.

He called it a “traumatically positive experience”.

“The helicopter was getting thrown around and I was getting pushed into the sand; the propeller blades were going everywhere; it was very loud, dark and dusty.

“I was locked in the foetal position.

“Someone did die in (the crash).” Private Beatson had been thrown into the helicopter while the man who died was thrown out of the helicopter and was crushed under it.

After the crash, Private Beatson could not ignore his cry for God.

It was not an overnight conversion, but in the months and years after, he started down a path to discover his meaning and purpose in life, which ultimately led to an unlikely meeting while he was working at a gym.

He met a man there who offered to take him to an Alpha course at Hillsong, Mt Gravatt, which Private Beatson did for a few months.

“That was awesome; I just got to meet Christians and get a good foundation of Jesus and his life, and learn about the Bible as well,” he said.

“Then, I just wanted to go to a Catholic church.

“I didn’t really know why … looking back on it, I think it had something to do with the fact that I was pretty conservative anyway, and I sort of have known the Catholic Church was conservative and had old traditions.”

He joined the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults at Mary Immaculate Church, Annerley.

“I just went into the Latin Mass, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as Latin Mass, and I just fell in love,” Private Beatson said.

“I felt like I was in a time chamber … and I just fell in love.”

Ever since then, Private Beatson had been passionate about learning more about the faith, Church history and theology.

He wanted to “share the gift” and “share the love” of Christ with everyone he met.

Life-changing day: The scene of the helicopter crash during a training exercise near Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates in September 2013. Private Dillon Beatson survived the crash.

Private Beatson was confirmed into the Catholic Church on August 31 last year.

His path of conversion had given him an appreciation for what he had now.

“One thing I think cradle Catholics don’t fully appreciate or don’t understand is how good they have it,” he said.

“I sort of feel like my childhood was robbed in a way, that I didn’t get to grow up with the love of Christ, and didn’t get to have a lot of the teachings and morals instilled in me from a young age.

“Just knowing that from a young age that Jesus is there, and he loves me, would have made a massive difference in my life.”

Private Beatson re-entered the army in February and recently moved into a Frassati house.

He was able to talk about his path of conversion at a small gathering at Mary Immaculate Church.

Conversion was difficult, he told the group.

“God really put in the hard yards to get me over the line because I wasn’t wanting to go easily; living a sinful life is fun, you don’t want to change it,” he said.

“But something inside you … you know you have to change.” His advice for Catholics accompanying converts was not to underestimate your role in someone’s journey.

“God really works through you and moves you in incredible ways, you might not ever know it,” he said.

“People need support; take a holistic approach in their whole life, don’t just care about them because you want to convert them, care about them because they’re children of God.

“And pray; there’s not much we can do without God’s grace and his mercy.”

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