How Red Wings’ David Booth cheated death en route to training camp

Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland tells HC at Noon why he’s optimistic his club will be knocking on the door of the playoffs come March 2018.

John Tortorella once famously called David Booth a “weird dude“.

And you know what? The then-coach of the Vancouver Canucks wasn’t being mean.

I believe what he meant was that Booth is just a different cat. He certainly doesn’t run in the same circles as your typical NHLer. One thing for sure is that Booth is true to himself. What he says, he believes. He’s different for sure. But he’s unquestionably real. And he’s a blast to talk to. I’m not down with hunting large animals or anything like that, but there are still plenty of interesting things to talk to Booth about and almost none have anything to do about hockey.

Did you know he spends 10 to 14 days every year in some remote location to “live off the land?” Yes, he takes a few provisions, but by the time he’s done dining on berries, leaves and such Booth is usually down close to 20 pounds. He says that those getaways are a way to get him out of “his comfort zone.”

I ran down Booth Saturday in Detroit because I was interested in finding out if a story I heard in the summer was true.

Fresh off the ice with a big mop of hair and a big smile Booth is quick with a warm greeting. His isn’t quite a Fargo like drawl, but the accent is distinct.

Asked whether he was happy to be back in the NHL with the Red Wings after a season in the KHL and Booth says, “Better to be playing four minutes a night here than 24 a night there.”

He tried to enjoy the Russian experience as best as he could, but if he didn’t land a job in North America this season he was not going back. And yes he understands that would likely have been the end of his hockey career. Not the end of his life however, which is what I wanted to talk to him about.

You see, late last summer Booth got a late invite to Ducks camp on a professional tryout offer. He literally had a day to get from Kelowna to Anaheim for the start of camp. That really wasn’t too much of a problem. Booth is a pilot and knew he could just hop in his Piper Malibu turbo prop and get down to Southern California in time to hit the ice.

Everything was going just fine until he ran into clouds over some mountains.

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“I wanted to get above the clouds because I was picking up ice,” he says. “I was messing with the alternate air. You don’t get as much power when you put on alternate air, but you need alternate air because the primary air will freeze up because of all the moisture in the clouds.

“I didn’t think I was that thick in the clouds. They were just patchy so I figured I’d keep it in primary air so I can get better climb and get above the clouds quicker. But then you hit one set of clouds that has a lot of moisture and it just goes.”

It being the engine.

So there he was at 18,000 feet above the clouds, turbulence and mountains with no engine.

“Talking to flight control, I was like, ‘I’ve got an emergency.’ My voice was shaking,” he says. “My manifold pressure was zero. You know the propeller still spins and everything it’s just you don’t have any pressure in the engine.”

Flight control told Booth the nearest airport was Winnemucca, Nev. And it was about 60 miles away. Booth asked them to tell him how to get there so he could try and glide the plane to the airport.

“I was shaking. I was praying. You know me I was praying hard,” he says. “You train for engine failures but … I was just thinking this is it.”

Booth took out his phone and tried to text him wife a few times. His message was the same in each one.

“I don’t know if this is going through, but please pray for me. Please pray for me and I kept sending it,” he says. “I think she got one, which is crazy because it was the only time in the entire flight I had service.”

Then he went about the task of trying to get the plane down safely.

“I was in the clouds and it was weird,” he says. “When you lose your engine it’s just awareness. I was looking at all my instruments to figure out straight and level. Trying to get the air speed to 92 (miles per hour), just things they train you to do.”

It probably didn’t help Booth’s nerves that other pilots were radioing him and wishing him good luck.

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“I was just messing with the engine and once I started gliding I was much more comfortable,” he says. “When you’re at 14,000 feet it doesn’t seem like you’re really dropping to the earth so it seems like you still have a lot of time. Once you’re up there you still probably have 15 minutes until you reach the ground.”

Once he got below the clouds Booth started to scope out places to land in case the plane couldn’t make it all the way to Winnemucca. He didn’t have to worry much longer.

“Gliding at 14,000 feet I just hear that ‘vooom,’ and I was like, ‘No way.’ I was like rejoicing in the plane.”

No longer frozen, the engine had kicked back in. And then is classic Booth fashion…

“I decided, I’m going to keep going. I’ve got camp tomorrow.”

WHAT?

Your engine has failed once and you’ve got three more hours in this flight and it’s camp the next day you’re worried about?

Booth radioed flight control to let them know his engine was back up and running and he aimed to finish the flight. He told them, “’I think I figured out the problem. I think it was just my air.’ And they’re like, it’s up to you what you want to do and if you want to get it (the plane’s engine) checked out.”

“I’m just going to stay at this altitude for another 30 minutes and see if anything happens.”

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Sure enough, Booth made it to Anaheim in time for Ducks camp. He didn’t, however, make the team.

And remember how I said Booth is true to himself? One thing he isn’t afraid to talk about is his faith. And when he says it helped him get through the experience you believe him 100 per cent. He doesn’t come across as a faker.

“Yeah it was scary, but in the end like, I’m not afraid to die,” he says. “I don’t want to leave my wife. You know I love her and I don’t want to leave early, but there is something so much greater waiting on the other side that I can take advantage of so that’s a comfort that I have.”

That said, he’s in no rush to get there. His plane has been sold. Booth is not done flying. He’s just looking into buying a new plane that is more, shall we say, reliable.

As for his hockey career? He’s played limited minutes in four games for the Red Wings this season. With Andreas Athanasiou coming back it might just be Booth that is squeezed out.

If so, he’s been thinking a lot recently about life after hockey. And whatever he decides to do, you know it won’t be boring.