Plane crash leads to lengthy detour for Hilo team


By COLIN M. STEWART

Tribune-Herald staff writer

It was a sporting roadtrip with a doosy of a detour, thanks to nationwide air traffic delays associated with Saturday’s crash of Asiana Flight 214 in San Francisco.

Speaking from his home in Hilo on Sunday afternoon, Coach Chris Leonard said that he and the rest of the Pilipa‘a Girls 16’s volleyball team were happy to arrive home safely after an exhausting 35 hours spent on the road upon leaving their hotel in Dallas, Texas. The girls had been competing there in the 2013 Junior National Championship Tournament, which they finished on Friday in 31st place out of 48 teams from across the country.

“We did OK,” Leonard said of the team’s performance. “We had some great moments and some moments where we struggled. We did beat one of the top 8 teams.”

But, he said, the true adventure began shortly after the team’s plane took off from Houston. The plane had been scheduled to fly from Dallas to Houston, and then on to San Francisco, where the team would catch United’s nonstop flight to Hilo, Leonard said, but that changed after the Asiana crash.

“We had been in the air about 15 minutes, we were just getting up to altitude, when the pilot made the announcement that we wouldn’t be able to land at our intended destination due to an incident in San Francisco. He said they didn’t have a whole lot of details, but we had video monitors at every seat … and spent the next two hours watching the news stories from San Francisco,” Leonard said.

The flight was rerouted to Phoenix due to the San Francisco airport being shut down, he said. The airline then planned to reroute the passengers to L.A., and then on to their original destinations.

“Let the scenic tour of America’s finer airports continue,” Leonard posted on his Facebook page.

And so it was on to another airline, and as the team was working its way through security, they learned of a ticketing error that would have split many of the adults in the group from the teens.

“They said ‘We don’t have any more seats.’ It was a mad dash at that point, all over the country,” Leonard said. “It was very difficult to get seats on anything at that point.”

After plenty of waiting in line to talk with airline employees — about 12 hours had elapsed since the team left their hotel in Dallas — it was decided that the only place the Pilipa‘a girls could get enough seats was to John Wayne Airport in Orange County, Calif. From there, they would have to catch taxi rides the 35 miles to Los Angeles, and then on to Hawaii.

Upon arriving in Orange County, the group learned that they wouldn’t be able to make it onto any of the flights to Hilo from L.A. They would have to fly in to Kona, and then drive back to Hilo.

“It was like that the whole time,” Leonard explained. “Things just kept going from bad to worse.”

The group loaded up into four cabs, and made their way to L.A., where they spent several hours sleeping on the floor, texting family and friends, and generally trying to occupy themselves as they waited for their 8 a.m. departure to Kona.

Then it was up to various family members to serve as the team’s ferry service back over the Saddle and home to Hilo.

It was a trying experience, but one that could have been a whole lot worse, Leonard said.

“At the end of the day, I’d rather be delayed and safe rather than going through what a lot of people were going through in San Francisco,” he said.

One bright spot of the entire experience, he added, was that the girls handled each roadblock thrown in front of them with aplomb.

“Despite all the challenges, and traveling over 35 hours from the time we left Dallas to the time we arrived in Kona, none of our kids complained,” he said. “Not even once. … I had told them that they were going to have a great adventure on this trip. I just didn’t know part of it would be off the court.”

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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