Ron’s Fishing Tips and Stories: How This Fishing Guide Almost Swam With the Fishes (Part 4)
Last week’s story ended with Coach Phillips and me trying to catch a flight out of Ciudad Obregon, Mexico to Phoenix, Arizona connecting with American to Dallas. However, I left out a part of this story that is very important and I am going to insert it now before we resume part 4.
Bill Hodge and his copilot caught a commercial flight from Chihuahua City back to Ft. Worth, Texas as I and my group were boarding the train for EL Fuerte. Bill immediately got a mechanic, parts for the DC3 engine and he left Ft. Worth bound for Mexico. He and the mechanic were going to repair the airplane engine as the plane sat on the road. Bill stopped at the Mexico border and reported his activities to Mexican border officials. They sent a border official with Bill and the mechanic in the Cessna 310 twin engine plane.
Their plan was to repair the engine of the DC3, which Bill would fly back to Ft. Worth while the mechanic flew the Cessna. As they were landing on the road in front of the DC3, the Cessna 310 right wing hit a small bush and spun the 310 off in the gully, totaling the airplane. They all survived with a few scratches, but the plane was a loss. They removed the radios and then Bill was so mad that he loaded everyone on the DC3, cranked up the bad engine along with the good engine and took off down the dirt road. Bill got the plane airborne and then shut down the bad engine and managed to get it all the way back to Ft. Worth. I guess the Cessna is still in that gully.
Catching the Flight in Obregon
The yellow Chevy II managed to get Coach and me to the Obregon airport safe and sound but I figured we had missed the plane by 10 minutes. I thanked the driver and payed him a nice amount for the wild ride. As it turns out the Aeromexico flight was running late, so we headed straight for the bar. We began to down some spirits and recount the days activities. Little did we know then that we still were in for some surprises. Our flight was about 40 minutes late and we were relieved when we took off for Phoenix. After a smooth flight, we were very relieved to arrive back in the good ole USA.
Finally, about 9 pm that night, a plane from LA showed up to take us to Dallas. I had bought us first class seats as I figured we should ride home in style after all we had been through. I remember boarding the plane and getting a seat next to the window in first class. The minute I sat down, I laid my head back and went to sleep. All the alcohol and the excitement of the day had caught up with me.
The next thing I knew Coach was shaking me, saying that the plane was on fire. I looked out my window, and sure enough one of the engines was ablaze and a fire crew was spraying chemicals to put it out. I wanted off that D___ plane but they wouldn’t let anyone off. Instead everyone was treated to free drinks — like I needed some more alcohol in my system. After a few more drinks and about 2 hours we finally left Phoenix for Dallas, arriving some 8 or 9 hours late.
The next morning I was in my office on North Haskell in Dallas telling my partner all about the unbelievable trip when two clean cut suits walked in and asked for me. I identified myself and asked if I could help them. They asked to talk in private, so I closed the door and they said they were Federal Aviation Agents and immediately asked to see my permit for selling airtravel. I responded that I didn’t know what they were talking about. They said I was subject to a $50,000 fine because I packaged the fishing and the air travel all together in one package to the Austin Woods and Water Club. I explaned that I was just two weeks out of high school coaching and didn’t know what they were talking about. They told me to report to the regional headquarters of the FAA in Ft. Worth the next day.
I reported to the FAA the next day and they really scared the _____ out of me with big threats of fines, etc. Then they said that if I would testify in court against Bill Hodge and Sportsman’;s Air travel the wouldn’t fine me. They asked me if I would do it. They explained that they were bringing a judge from Washington DC to try the case and they wanted to do away with the 123 permits that Hodge was operating under. They said that the Wichita State football team had been on a 123 permit plane when they crashed and all were killed. I agreed to do what they asked to avoid the fine, but truth was I didn’t have $50 to my name and I couldn’t see helping to hurt the man I felt saved our lives.
I got back to the office in Dallas and called Bob Landis in Austin. Bob told me about everything that happened to them on the way back. He said they had all had been questioned by Federal Agents and would be issued a subpoena to testify about the ill-fated flight. He said he didn’t want to hurt Bill Hodge as he felt he saved all our lives, but that he didn’t have a choice.
The end results were that a trial was held while I was in Mexico and Bill Hodge lost all his permits, maybe even his license (not sure). The trial totally wiped him out of business. I tried to stay in touch from time to time but never talked to Bill himself. He had a fellow named Brown that I usually talked with. I believe it was maybe six months or more later when I got a call from Brown saying Bill and a copilot had been killed in an airplane explosion near Monterey, Mexico.
I do remember Bill Hodge was 57 years old and was a veteran of WWII and I was terribly sorry to hear about his death.
In closing, I did get some of the Austin club members back with me years later. In fact Bob Landis brought his son to our camp at Lake Guerrero, and Bubba Ross from Lockheart, Texas flew with me to Guerrero on a couple of trips. Bubba was the guy sitting in the isle of the DC3 playing gin rummy and drinking scotch whiskey while everyone else was looking out the window at the dead engine. I know for many years that fine group of men held a reunion once a year to celebrate their survival on the DC3 in Mexico.
This is the end of this story that happened 36 years ago. Please keep in mind that in those days there were not many commercial flights in Northern Mexico. Bass fishing Mexico has changed a lot over the past 20 to 25 years. Today, all of our fishing destinations in Mexico are serviced by commercial airlines. We still have to use a charter flight with our Brazil Peacock fishing but hopefully bass fishing in Mexico has seen the last of the charter flights. Going commercial to bass fish Mexico is not as exciting as going charter but a hell of a lot safer!