Given the amount of air miles college coaches log on the recruiting trail, they’re bound to run into some (literal) turbulence that ofttimes necessitates a change of drawers. Last month, Todd Graham and a family member found themselves with such an unfortunate set of circumstances.
Two Fridays ago, the Arizona State head coach and his son, ASU running backs coach Bo Graham, were onboard a small plane en route to a recruiting visit in Dallas. Cruising at 35,000 feet, a loud noise woke the elder Graham up to a scary scene: the plane was shaking, alarms were shrieking and the pilots were putting on oxygen masks as the aircraft had lost cabin pressure.
The plane then “started diving,” Todd Graham told the Arizona Republic, before leveling off at 10,000 feet. The pilots made an emergency landing in Albuquerque and, after a brief layover, the Grahams continued — on a new plane — on to Dallas for the recruiting trip.
While both of the coaches were, after a sleepless first night, able to joke about the scare, it certainly left an impression. Todd Graham was subsequently told that their incident was similar to the one that claimed the life of professional golfer Payne Stewart back in late October of 1999.
Stewart was on a private jet that lost cabin pressure and incapacitated all onboard, including the pilot and co-pilot. The jet, which was on autopilot, ultimately ran out of fuel and crashed in a desolate field in South Dakota, killing all six who were on the plane.
A similar incident also claimed the life of LSU head coach Bo Rein before he ever coached a game for the Tigers. Rein was, eerily enough, on a recruiting trip in January of 1980 when a plane in which he was flying, authorities theorized, lost cabin pressure and ultimately crash landed in the Atlantic Ocean. No official determination on the cause of the accident was ever made, and the bodies of Rein and the pilot were never recovered.
“We’re very lucky,” Todd Graham said of his own brush with mortality.
“I was kind of in denial,” Bo Graham said of the surreal experience. “When you start off on the planes and they’re giving you the whole ‘When the mask falls down” speech, you never think it’s going to happen. But when it did happen, I was thinking, ‘Is this really going down? Right here?’ I mean, come on. In the desert of New Mexico? There are a lot better places to take a fall.”