I was attending BHSU in 1992 for my pre mortuary credits, but since my youth I had always been interested in flying.
By Eldon and Greg Jensen
I had about 38 hours of flying time in by early November, so I rented a Cessna 172 at Spearfish, S.D., and set out on the first of three legs of a long cross country solo flight. The flight was uneventful to Miles City, Mont. I refueled and visited with the Flight Service Station about weather.They informed me that there was a good chance of fog, low ceilings and poor visibility after the sun set that evening. So I filed a flight plan to Lemmon, SD and hustled back to N1373E to get going.
At about Bowman, ND heading east, I began having to fly lower to stay below the decreasing ceiling. US Highway 12 became a nice strip below me to navigate to Lemmon. The clouds kept pushing me closer to the ground and at Hettinger, ND I was probably only 500 feet above the earth. When I flew over Hettinger, at about the Hettinger Cemetery and the Hospital, Highway 12 curves a bit to the northeast. Trying to navigate by keeping that strip below me and off to my left, following that curve at 100 knots, I must have climbed a bit and inadvertently entered “The Soup”. I started a left hand turn to perform a 180 and head back WEST where there was more room between the bottom of the clouds and the earth. My left hand turn 180 became a climbing and diving 360 to a 540 to a 720 or so. In my disorientation, while still in a left hand turn, the engine on the 172 began to “rev up”, yet my hand wasn’t on the throttle. I was trying to establish visual contact with the ground, in order to not hit it , but I was in a turning dive, a.k.a. “Graveyard Spiral”. When I could see the ground through my windshield, it was in the form of rocks and sagebrush! I pulled back on the yoke and thought, “this is it”.
I have no way of guessing how close I came to impacting the earth, but somewhere east or northeast of Hettinger, it was TOO Close! My luck hadn’t run out yet and I was still flying. Every instructor I have ever had told me, “no matter what situation or emergency, keep flying the airplane”. So that’s what I did and back up into the soup, I went.
After I had re-oriented myself and the aircraft was in a westerly heading, I saw a glow of orange below me to my left, like a strip in the fog. I descended, thinking it was the street lights along Highway 12 through Hettinger, then the Mirror Lake Lodge Motel sign passed by my right wingtip. I was heading west! I knew that the Hettinger Airport was west of town and north of the highway. After a few short seconds and a slight right turn, once west of Hettinger, I saw the end lights of runway 30. In the fog, I lined up on those lights and touched down safely and taxied onto the ramp
Back in those days, each state had its own Flight Service Station. When I called from Hettinger to cancel my flight plan, Grand Forks didn’t have one on me, since my destination was Lemmon, SD. Grand Forks didn’t communicate with Huron, SD Flight Service to cancel my flight. After a quick phone call to my Mother in Lemmon, I told her that I had made it to Hettinger. She informed me that Eldon, my Dad was meeting with a family at the Hettinger Funeral Home and that I could just ride back with him. I caught a ride in from the airport and recall sitting on the bumper of a vehicle and watching the fog roll by in near zero visibility and remember praying and thanking God for getting me through that one. To say the least, it did rattle me after I was safely on the ground. Pilots talk about kissing the ground after certain flights and that was one of them for me
About 30 minutes after I called Mom back in Lemmon, she received a call from Huron Flight Service, since my flight had not been cancelled. Huron could see that the weather was doing up in that part of the country and knew the terrible flight conditions. When asked if she’d heard from me or if she knew where I was, my Mom told the Flight Service person, “Oh, don’t worry. Everything is fine. Greg’s at the Funeral Home”. The phone was silent for a few moments as the Flight Service person didn’t quite know what to say! Realizing what she said, My Mom quickly told the Flight Service, “Greg landed in Hettinger. We own Funeral Homes!” I wasn’t the only person that night breathing a sigh or two of relief!
The above happening gives an introduction to quickness in which the next 25 years passed for Evanson Jensen. Yes, we still have the Horse Drawn Hearse, but have added aircraft to the transportation segment, as well as joining the “computer age”. 1987-2012 went by so quickly, but as they say, once you’re 50, “hang on” for the downhill slide! I’m still looking for the typewriters we used to have around.