Manager brushes off 'minor landing issue'

Updated: January 22, 2004, 4:06 PM ET
Associated Press

ST. LOUIS -- St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa was unfazed when his small jet skidded off a snow-covered Colorado runway this week, joking he's had equally troubling times in a baseball dugout.

"One guy said, 'You're really handling this all right,' " La Russa said Thursday of the accident a day earlier at Pueblo Memorial Airport. "More tongue in cheek, I said, 'After you have one-run leads in the ninth for 20 years,' a minor landing issue gets easier to brush off."

La Russa said he was "hitching a ride home" to California with pals after a Tuesday night banquet of the St. Louis' chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America when the jet landed to refuel in Pueblo. La Russa said he was the only person affiliated with the Cardinals on board.

"I'm pleased to report to my wife that I was thinking of her instead of my dog," La Russa said, alluding to the couple's 11-year-old lab-terrier mix, one of their three dogs.

The Falcon corporate jet landed "pretty gentle" but began to spin when only one of the twin-engine plane's two reverse thrusters used to assist in braking deployed. The plane veered off the runway, said Jerry Brienza, the airport's operations manager. The airport's three runways were covered by about three-quarters of an inch of snow at the time, Brienza said.

The plane came to rest about 100 feet off the runway, its wing stuck in a snow bank and its right landing gear collapsed, said Mike Fergus, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman in Seattle.

"It was happening so fast, so loud and bumpy," La Russa said. "It gets your attention, that's the best way to describe it. You don't know what's going to happen, but you're paying attention."

When the jet finally came to a stop, La Russa said he "looked around. There was no smoke, no fire." Rescue vehicles converged, he said.

La Russa returned home later that day on another jet.

"I feel safer flying to California than driving on California's freeways," he said.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press