"Da' Plane... PART-1"

Other than a hotel room, there are two other places where wrestlers spend more time than in the ring itself. Those locations are either in an automobile or in an airplane. Old timers like myself have many road stories, and most of them revolve around traveling. Early in my career, almost all of my travel was by car. Later on, air travel became important because of the longer distances I had to go, and the little time that was available for me to get there and back.

In a previous "Percy Story", I recounted my arrival into Championship Wrestling From Florida. I told you about a sputtering, smoky, old Cessna Aircraft that was owned at the time by Lester Welch, of the famous Welch/Fuller/Fields wrestling family. During my time with CWF, Lester ran several Florida towns including The Bahamas.

Growing up in a traditional NWA territory along the Gulf Coast, I was always a heel fan, and Bobby Shane was forever at the top of my favorites list. His legendary feud with the late Gulf Coast Promoter Lee Fields, who by the way was Lester Welch’s nephew, was one of the reasons why I fell in love with this industry.

On February 22, 1975, Bobby Shane’s body was pulled from the wreckage of a small plane that was flying four wrestlers back to Tampa from Miami. The three others, pilot Buddy Colt, Gary Hart, and Mike McCord (Austin Idol), managed to swim 300 yards to safety. Needless to say, Bobby Shane’s tragic death had a major impact on my formative years in the business.

Never once while I was working in Florida did I fly in or out of Tampa without thinking of that horrible plane crash. Even when I fly over Tampa Bay today, I find my thoughts drifting back to the day we lost Bobby Shane.

Those very memories were in my mind the morning of August 3, 1985, when Lester Welch’s old plane took to the Florida skies at 6:15 am. I was sitting in the copilots seat, joined by Wahoo McDaniel, Rick Rude, Jack Hart (Barry Horowitz), and Billy Jack Haynes in the passenger compartment. We were enroute to Atlanta, to do the WTBS, Channel 17, Georgia Championship Wrestling show. At the time, we were using a lot of TBS talent in Florida, and they wanted Florida’s top talent to be seen on The Super Station to enhance our image. By the way, that was my one and only appearance on TBS in my career.

It was going to be a double shot for us that day. Immediately after wrestling on TBS, we were scheduled to jump back into the plane and work our house show in Jacksonville that evening, on our way back to Tampa.

Although I make Lester’s plane seem a bit scary, it really wasn’t as bad as it sounds. If it wasn’t safe, believe me Chief Wahoo would have never allowed us to use it in the first place. We used the plane many times in the past, traveling to bi-weekly shots in the Bahamas, and back and forth to Miami as well. I had developed a friendship with the pilot, and that’s why I usually joined him in the cockpit.

We were about halfway to Atlanta, flying over the heavily wooded area of South Georgia. The boys in the back were asleep, as I was in the middle of one of my famous funeral home conversations with the pilot. All of a sudden, the right engine started making a horrible noise. It was enough to awaken my slumbering friends in the rear. I remember Wahoo shouting, “Percy what the hell are you messing with up there?”

In a matter of seconds, the right propeller died completely. Followed by the second engine, stuttering and languishing. Moments later, the left side stopped too.

It was one of those “you had to be there” scenarios, to appreciate it. Seconds seemed like hours, and you could hear a pin drop in the back. I tried in vain to find comfort in the experienced eyes of my pilot friend.

Please join me next here next time, same place, and I will give you the rest of the story. Did we make it to “Hot-lanta”, or did we make an unscheduled stop in Valdosta, Georgia?