Saturday, October 20, 2007

Safe landing in Sioux Falls

Thursday's news about USC’s thunderstorm-plagued flight to South Bend, Ind., along with my Friday flight back to my favorite airport in South Dakota, got me thinking about a harrowing trip to the Dakotas three years ago.
Eerily similar thunderstorms rocked the Midwest in 2004 while I was on a commercial flight to Fargo, N.D., for Cal Poly’s game at North Dakota State. (The Mustangs were on a separate flight, and I’ll get to that adventure in a minute.)

Like the USC flight, our pilot was forced to abort a landing at the last moment because of the stormy conditions in Fargo. I’ve been on some bumpy rides before but nothing like this, balking on a landing attempt when the airstrip was within sight … in the middle of an already unnerving thunderstorm.
We circled the Fargo airport for 45 minutes before the gas gauge started pointing toward empty and forced us to land in Sioux Falls, S.D. – the same airport the team and I flew into today without any hassle (here's a preview of Saturday's game along with a story on Cal Poly's bend-but-don't break D).
It was a different story three years ago when a few dozen Cal Poly fans and I were forced to drive the eight-hour trek from Sioux Falls to Fargo because our pilot didn't want to brave the storm.

• • •

During my eight-hour drive to North Dakota State three years ago, I called Cal Poly assistant SID Eric Burdick to see how the team’s earlier flight went and found out they encountered a similar scare in Fargo. Their pilot aborted a landing at the last minute, too, although he made good on his second attempt after a brief stop in Sioux Falls. Unlike yours truly, they were able to fly to Fargo later that night while the rest of us hydroplaned our way across the state in our compact rental cars.
So that’s my white-knuckle airline story in seven years of covering this team.

• • •

I asked former Mustang Kyle Shotwell about that Fargo flight the other day, and he said it was the scariest flight he’s ever been on. He recalled the pilot announcing over the speaker that he was going to “try landing again” the second time around.
Shotwell recalled teammate Karl Ivory yelling out: “Try! No, you’re going to land this thing.”
The good news was the team landed safely and all of Cal Poly’s followers made the drive to North Dakota in one piece.
Luckily, Friday’s flight to Sioux Falls was a piece of cake. Let’s hope Saturday’s 45-minute drive up to Brookings is uneventful as well.

• • •

P.S. Cal Poly better get used to these fall trips to the Dakotas. While South Dakota State and North Dakota State are leaving the Great West after this season, North Dakota and South Dakota will be joining the conference in the near future. Cal Poly is also trying to schedule nonconference games against South Dakota State in 2008 and 2009.

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