During his many years as an athlete and coach, air travel has generally agreed with Bud Grant, including his time with the Gophers, the old Minneapolis Lakers, the Philadelphia Eagles, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Vikings.
It took a duck-hunting trip in Canada to break that string of good luck.
The other day, while holding forth on his favorite post-NFL topic — the plight of North American ducks — the retired Vikings coach mentioned casually that he and a friend crash-landed a plane in Canada this fall while in pursuit of mallards and other fowl.
And yes, the hunting trip continued unabated — albeit in a U-Haul truck.
The incident occurred Oct. 17. Grant, who is 88, and his pilot pal, Jim Hanson, of Albert Lea, belly-flopped a twin-engine Beechcraft to a screeching stop a couple hours short of their destination in Kindersley, Saskatchewan.
On impact, the plane’s propellers shredded, showering sparks. Boom, Grant’s Labrador retriever, the third passenger aboard, seemed simultaneously afoot and aloft as the plane careened to a stop.
“The fire trucks came first,” Grant said. “Then the security people. They seemed to think we might be terrorists.”
A few hours earlier, Grant and Hanson had lifted off into a clear sky from Flying Cloud Airport in Eden Prairie.
The two have traveled together to hunt for many years, from Texas to the far north, with Hanson, a member of the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame and the manager of the Albert Lea Airport, at the controls.
Hanson has piloted single-engine aircraft to nearly 80 countries. He first soloed at age 16, and owned a plane a year later, before he owned a car.
Parts shred like shrapnel
That day in October, as Grant and Hanson approached Regina, Sask., the sky was blue and the wind scant. The two planned to clear Canadian customs and take on fuel in Regina before flying on to Kindersley.
Approved to land, Hanson dropped the plane’s wheels, and with Grant, watched as a dashboard indicator confirmed “wheels down.”
Hanson drifted the sleek craft lower and lower … until at 100-miles-an-hour-plus, metal grated deafeningly against asphalt. Aircraft parts sprayed like shrapnel, rendering the sleek craft to junk in split seconds.
“The dashboard indicators failed,” Grant said. “Something in the landing gear was broken. The indicators said the wheels went down. But they didn’t.”
The twin Beech typically uses about 1,200 feet of airstrip when landing. Grant, Hanson and Boom stopped dead in about 300 feet.
But they weren’t dead.
And they weren’t on fire.
“The fire trucks were there in about a minute and a half,” Grant said. “We were still in the plane.”
If the aircraft had landed wheels-up on grass or dirt, it might have dug in and flipped over, imperiling Grant and Hanson.
Instead, on the main runway at Regina International Airport, the plane remained upright.
The October incident was not the first close call in Grant’s flying career.
Once, after playing in an all-star game in Canada, he was booked on a flight from Vancouver back to Winnipeg. Opting to return earlier in the day, he changed the flight. The original flight subsequently crashed, killing everyone on board.
And in his last years as Vikings coach, he and some friends were on takeoff one summer from Seattle in a private jet, on their way back from an Alaskan fishing trip, when the nose wheel malfunctioned and the aircraft veered off the runway.
“I’ve been lucky,” Grant said.
The dog rides in comfort
But not so lucky in Regina, when he and Hanson tried to rent a vehicle to continue their hunting trip and then return home.
“No one would rent us a car we could drop off [back] in Minnesota,” Grant said. “Finally, we tried U-Haul. They said they’d rent us a truck. You know, for moving furniture.”
So it was that Hanson and Grant arrived in Regina by winged craft and left in an orange and white lorry, shotguns at their side. In the back lay Boom, the only cargo, splayed on a bed of furniture pads.
“We got to Kindersley about midnight and got up at 4:30 to hunt with my good friend Bill Ziegler from the Twin Cities,” Grant said. “But there weren’t many ducks. Not like it used to be.”
“Wildlife officials who say there are a record number of ducks on the continent don’t know what they’re talking about.”
On the 1,000-mile return journey to Minnesota, Grant and Hanson split driving duties. When they crossed into North Dakota from Canada, a U.S. Customs agent recognized Grant.
“What were you doing in Canada?” the agent asked.
“Duck hunting,” Grant said.
The agent looked at the truck.
“You must have gotten a lot of ducks.”
“Not really,” Grant said. “Don’t believe anyone who says we’ve got a record number of ducks.”