When The Lakers Almost Died In A Plane Crash

Photo Credit: Darryl Norenberg-USA TODAY Sports

When The Lakers Almost Died In A Plane Crash


On November 8, 1948, six players from the Czechoslovakian national ice hockey team died in a plane crash on the way to an exhibition tour. One year later, eighteen players from the Italian football team F.C. Torino died when the plane crashed on its landing approach to the Turin airport. February 6, 1958, eight players of Manchester United died when their plane failed to take off on its third attempt.  November 28, 2016, the plane of Brazilian football club Chapecoense crashed en route to attend the 2016 Copa Sudamericana Finals, killing 19 players.

These are some of the most tragic and widley known plane crashes involving sports teams. Unfortunately there have been a lot more.

One of the most famous sport teams in the entire world almost had a plane crash, but got lucky. The Minneapolis Lakers.

Imagine an NBA without the Lakers. On January 18, 1960, the Minneapolis Lakers flew back from a game in St. Louis and crash landed in a cornfield in Carroll, Iowa, after getting lost and running low on fuel in a blinding snowstorm. Elgin Baylor, who was a rookie on the team gave us some insight on how the situation was for the team inside the plane.


“We were playing cards, and then the lights went out, and it got cold. And for a while, the pilot didn’t say anything. And finally everybody wanted to know what was going on, and he said the only thing that was working was the generator. (Not) the instrument panel, nothing. They couldn’t see anything.”


Bob “Slick” Leonard, who also was on that 1960 Lakers roster shared his conversation with Tommy Hawkins. Both were scared to not survive the incident.


“We headed for Minneapolis, and lo and behold, we run into a snowstorm. And old Tommy Hawkins, from Notre Dame, we were sitting there together and we had a blanket over our heads. He said ‘Slick, do you gonna think we’re gonna die?’ I said ‘naw, we’re not gonna die.’ And he said ‘the hair is standing straight up on the back of my neck.’”


Flying through the snowstorm without working instruments, the pilots had to open the windows of the cockpit to brush off the snow. This led to one of the pilots having been frostbitten across half of his face. They didn’t know where they were, or how high, the only thing they knew was that they were running out of fuel and had to land soon.


“The moon was out and we were lost, so we started following this car,” Leonard said. “They weren’t flying that high. They thought the headlights would lead them into a town. And that damn thing was heading up a hill. And all of a sudden (the pilot) yanks up on that thing and we go back up.”

“Finally, the pilot said ‘listen, I’m going to go down; I think I see a field that we might can land (in),’ and he told everybody to get ready,” Baylor said.

“Your life really passes in front of you,” Leonard said. “I had three little kids at the time and a lot of things go through your mind. But I didn’t think we were gonna die.”


After flying over the cornfield several times, to figure out the terrain and see if there were any powerlines or buildings, the Pilots dropped down into the field and safely came to a stop.

Leonard recalled the crash-landing:


“The shucks were still up and it was just ripping through there. We were in that crash position. And then we stopped and one pilot had that backdoor open real quick, and now, here we are in a cornfield, and we’re so happy. The snow was clear up to your chest … we started throwing snowballs at each other and everything. About 75 yards or so ahead, was a dropoff like you wouldn’t believe. That plane would’ve gone down that gorge and probably exploded.”


Sioux City Journal

Photo Credit: Stew Thornley

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