The Lakers boarded a DC 3 plane that would bring them back home to Minneapolis after a loss in Atlanta to the Hawks. Baylor, then the prized rookie of the squad, shared the tumultuous development of events.
“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,” Baylor said, per ESPN.
The plane carrying the Lakers ran into a snowstorm. The windshield wipers were stuck. So the pilots had no choice but to open the cockpit windows and brush off the snow. After clearing the windows, the next mission was to land the plane as the gas was running low, too. It was a colossal task since the moon had disappeared. Their only compass was a moving car on the road.
“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.
Bob Leonard, then the Lakers coach, also shared what his headspace was during the entire ordeal. He recalls how low to the ground the plane was, flying over power lines and even a water tower.
“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.”
Plane of doom
The pilots were able to safely land the plane in a cornfield in Caroll, Iowa. The town mortician was the first to greet them, to which Baylor said: “No business for you today.” The Lakers then proceeded to a hotel filled with retirees.
“There was a small bar there, that sat maybe five or six people,” Leonard said. “And some of these old retirees, they came out, the ladies had their nightgowns on, and they wanted to know what was going on. And old Larry Faust, he’s dead now, he saw that liquor cabinet had a lock on it. He took a hold of that lock and just twisted that thing off and got himself a big glass and poured himself some VO and sat down.”
Baylor and the Lakers took a bus back to Minneapolis. They were scheduled to head to Cincinnati to face the Royals (now Sacramento Kings). In a strange turn of events, they boarded the same DC 3 plane that almost crashed.
They had no choice. The Lakers and the entire NBA weren’t swimming in money like today. As fate would have it, the plane had an oil leak at the Cincinnati airport and caught fire. Fire trucks doused the flames, and everybody was safe. After that season, the Lakers moved to Los Angeles from Minneapolis. It was indeed a bitter farewell, from the city and that plane of doom.