Describing Heaven: Pastor, Pronounced Dead, Says He Was There

Minister, car crash survivor Don Piper wrote bestseller about visiting heaven.

ByABC News
August 2, 2011, 2:24 PM

Aug. 3, 2011 — -- Don Piper says he remembers music that was "beyond spectacular" and aromas he'd never smelled before. His grandfather was there to greet him warmly, as dozens of others who had died in years past stood before him in front of a magnificent gate.

Piper, an ordained Baptist minister, insists it was no dream: He visited heaven, he said, and chronicled his experience in the New York Times bestseller, "90 Minutes in Heaven."

"It was the most real thing that ever happened to me," he said.

Piper's ethereal trip, he said, began on a bridge in rural Texas in 1989. There, a truck plowed into Piper's car, leaving him with horrific injuries.

"(The) steering wheel impaled me in the chest and then the car's roof collapsed on my head so there's just no way you could survive this accident," he said.

Piper said his heart stopped pumping and paramedics declared him dead. He was without a pulse, he said, for 90 minutes before coming back to life.

But before he rejoined the living, Piper said he communed with the dead.

"I took my last breath here in the car and I took my first breath there at the gates," he said.

There were lights reflecting off the gates, which looked like they were "pulsating with life," he said.

"That's because in heaven there is no artificial light, God illuminates it with his glory," he said.

In front of the gate stood his grandfather, welcoming him "home," he said.

"I was heartbroken when he died," he said. "Now I'm at the gates of heaven (and) he's the first person to greet me."

Piper, who was ordained in 1985, said he could not have imagined what he saw in heaven.

"You know, if I was having a dream about it, this wouldn't be in it," he said. "Some of these people who met me at the gates, I haven't thought of in decades."

As Piper's body remained trapped in the car, the wreckage caught the attention of a couple driving by. As Dick Onarecker and his wife pulled up to the scene, they were told that Piper was dead. Onarecker decided to pray over Piper's body anyway.

"The Lord just impressed on me very emphatically very urgently that I was to pray for him," Onarecker, who died in 1996, said in an interview before his death.

Piper said he regained consciousness and heard Onarecker singing "We Have a Friend in Jesus." Soon, he joined him in song.

"He's singing, and, and I'm singing, and I'm thinking to myself, 'What happened here?'" Piper remembered.

Piper was alive, but he would face a long recovery. He endured dozens of surgeries to fix his bones and had to learn how to walk again.

"I knew I was not going to be the same physically, because of apparently how badly I was injured. But I also know what I've seen," Piper said.

He believes he was sent back to spread a special message: "Heaven is a real place."

Piper has spread that message with his book, which has sold 4 million copies. But even with all his success here on Earth, he said he looks forward to returning to those magnificient gates.

"It's not that I mind being here, I'm actually very excited to be here," he said, but "this doesn't seem real to me now, because I know how temporal and fleeting it is.

"I know it happened in my very soul, my very being," he said. "It is now my reality. And so I can't wait to go back there."