WOODBURY, Minn. — Sixty years later he still thinks about it.
“How could you not,” Harold Gifford says.
Gifford thinks about the night he safely landed the NBA's Minneapolis Lakers in an Iowa cornfield.
“It is on mind a lot. I relive it,” Gifford says of the event known in Carroll, Iowa as “The Miracle Cornfield Landing.”
Gifford was in the co-pilot's seat flying the Lakers from a game in St. Louis to Minneapolis.
The team’s DC-3 lost electricity shortly after takeoff, leaving the plane with no radio and no lights, beyond a flashlight Gifford always kept in his lap.
Caught in a massive snowstorm and running low on fuel, Gifford and the two other pilots knew they were running out of options.
“So, I had to make a pretty gutsy decision at that point,” Gifford said.
The air force veteran brought the plane low over Carroll. So low, Gifford recalls seeing a Hamm’s beer billboard.
“Water towers are 125 feet high, and we were below that,” Gifford said.
Outside of town, he chose a cornfield
“It was the only place that made sense. When I was kid, I rode on the cultivator. In a cornfield, you'll never find a rock or hole - it's smooth sailing,” Gifford said.
Ears of corn banged on the plane's belly for the length of three football fields.
Gifford remembers vividly the plane coming to a rest. “I tell you it was pretty quiet in that airplane but once we settled down and I cut the engines the loudest hollering and screaming you could imagine. People high-fiving and when they got out the door, they are in snow up to their knees making snowballs,” Gifford said.
To this day he bristles when people call it a crash.
“I was totally relaxed,” Gifford said. “It's just an unscheduled landing.”
Gifford still has the place mat the members of the team signed at breakfast in Carroll the next morning.
He offered up with pride that the DC-3 was later flown out of the field and put back into service.
A housing subdivision now stands there with a basketball court at the site of the landing.
The Los Angeles Lakers donated $25,000 for the court and Gifford was there 10 years ago for the dedication.
“You were able to save the lives of 23 people and then live for 60 years a great life by virtue of having pulled that off,” Gifford said.
At 96, Harold Gifford still hasn't stopped being grateful.
“I'll tell you what, I'm one of the luckiest guys around, and I'm still going,” he said.