Ron’s Fishing Tips and Stories: How This Fishing Guide Almost Swam With the Fishes (Part 1)
This week I am going to tell you a story about a near fatal airplane accident in the mountains of Mexico. In 1972 I had just quit my job as athletic director & head football coach at Hemphill, Texas High School. I had moved to Dallas to start my Mexico fishing business.
The first group I had booked was the Austin Woods & Water Club for a 3-day fishing trip to Lake Dominguez, Mexico. Bob Landis was the President of the club and he booked 24 members to go to this remote lake on Mexico’s west coast. I hired my high school football coach, Tommy Phillips, to go along and help me work with the group.
We got up at 4 am and drove to Meacham Field in Fort Worth to meet Bill Hodge, the owner of Sportsman Air Travel. The Dallas Woods & Water club had used Bill Hodge before on trips to Canada, so I felt he was an experienced operator and was OK to use. Bill, along with his copilot Tommy and myself left Ft. Worth before daylight headed to Austin to pick up my clients.
Upon arrival I met Bob Landis and all the club members. We starting loading gear which was over 20 ice chests full of steaks, cases of American beer, 3 outboard motors, and 24 suitcases. It took over 30 minutes with over 20 guys loading all this gear. Since I was very young and not a pilot I thought nothing at all about weight. There were 5 clients in the group that were BIG MEN… I mean close to 300lb each.
Bill Hodge was a veteran pilot of DC3s in WWII and had been shot down twice in the European campaign by the Germans. I felt in the best of hands as Bill had logged THOUSANDS OF HOURS in a DC3 during and after the war. However, before we left Austin Bill asked me for $300 for gas money for the plane. I didn’t have it so I reluctantly had to ask Bob and club members for the money. I was embarrassed.
We left Austin about 9 am headed for Piedras Negras, Mexico. The flight was pretty much uneventful until we went to land. Bill let the copilot land the plane and the copilot bounced it all over the place which scared me pretty bad as I was a newcomer to flying. The fuel crew refueled the plane from old rusty 55 gallon drums while we waited for permission to enter Mexico. Somehow Bill had failed to get permission from Mexico City in advance so we had to wait 2 hours before we could take off.
Finally we got airborne and were headed nonstop to our final destination in El Fuerte, Mexico. In about 1 hour of flying we started into some really tall and rough looking mountains. The peaks were majestic looking but I kept noticing there was absolutely no place to land a plane if we had a problem. I was nervous.
Bill Hodge, the pilot, paid me and Tommy a visit at the back of the plane next to the door. Bill asked us how we were doing and I told him I was nervous as I hadn’t flown that much. Bill said don’t worry that he could land this plane on a football field. He started to say something else when the plane shook with a violent tremor. Bill excused himself quickly and went back to the cockpit.
Tommy, who was sitting by the window, nudged me and said to look out the window. I saw brown oil all over the window and then the propeller started turning more slowly. It looked rather ominous as it slowed to a complete stop. Everyone on board was looking out the left side windows at the dead motor and still prop.
I got up and went forward into the cockpit where I found Bill and his copilot looking at a big map of Mexico. I asked Bill how we were doing and he replied “We’re just fine. We have lost an engine and we are changing course to go to Chihuahua City for repairs. We have 10,500 ft altitude and we should arrive in about 40 minutes.” I went back into the cabin and told everyone what Bill had said and they resumed talking and drinking, and drinking. Bubba Ross and his dad, Dr. Ross from Lockhart ,Texas were part of the group. Bubba and his buddy were sitting in the aisle playing gin rummy and drinking scotch. They never missed a hand.
In about 40 minutes we were flying in a canyon and losing altitude very rapidly and were not anywhere close to Chihuahua. The plane was about 500 feet off the ground and it was jumping up and down violently as the temperature was very hot. I went forward to the cabin again and it was a totally different picture this time. Both Bill and the other pilot had both hands on the controls trying to fly the plane, which was next to impossible. It reminded me of old movies I had seen where WWII bombers were shot up really bad and the pilots were fighting the controls.
I asked Bill, “How are we doing now?” and he said “NOT WORTH A DAMN. Get to the back and tell everyone we are going to crash into all that rock and brush that you see on the ground.” Bill said “IT’S GOING TO BE A ROUGH ONE.” I went back and all eyes and ears were waiting on me to speak. I told everyone to put their head between their legs on their small pillows, and to be sure and have their seat belts fastened very tight. Leroy Bednour from Austin was sitting in one of the first seats next to the cabin and he told me later that I repeated myself seven times before going back to my seat. When I got to the back, Tommy said, “We’re not going to make it, are we?” I said “No coach, we’re not going to make it, and I am very sorry I got you into this mess.” Tommy said “Just scoot over next to me. I don’t feel this is my day to die.”
Tommy kept giving me reports on how close to the ground we were and how much time before impact. All I could think about was that I didn’t want to burn up in the fireball that was sure to happen when we crashed….
THIS IS THE END OF PART 1 OF THIS EXCITING STORY — PART 2 NEXT WEEK!
Good luck with your fishing and wear that lifejacket.