Volcano strands wrestling team in South Pacific for 7 days

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

When an all-star team of wrestlers from Indiana headed off on an international wrestling trip to New Zealand, Indiana State Wrestling Association coach Danny Struck promised them a thrilling adventure. As it turns out, the sojourn was much more of an exciting Pan-Pacific foray than the coach or his traveling athlete could have imagined.

Indiana state wrestling all stars who competed in New Zealand
Indiana state wrestling all stars who competed in New Zealand

As reported by the Jeffersonville Evening News and Tribune, the ISWA team -- pictured above arriving back at the Louisville airport -- ended up being stranded twice, in two different countries, by the eruption of a volcano in Chile. Then, to get back, they had to fly 11 hours in the wrong direction, through Hong Kong, to eventually get back to the Louisville airport some 24 hours after they had taken off the day before.

And, just to top things off, that incredibly roundabout return flight came a full seven days after the team was scheduled to return to the U.S., again courtesy of the volcanic eruption in Patagonia.

The series of epic delays began when the team left on June 4. That was the same day that the Chilean volcano first erupted, extending the team's Los Angeles layover from a few hours to 36 hours. That wouldn't have been a problem if the team had headed straight off to New Zealand next, which they assumed they were when they boarded their next plane.

Instead, the flight -- which was scheduled for Auckland -- was in Sydney, Australia when the wrestlers woke up, a diversion that was again forced by volcanic ash. Despite being only a short flight from New Zealand, the all-star squad was stuck without any chance of getting there for days while volcanic ash continued to shut down flights in the South Pacific, instead reverting to roles as surprised tourists in Australia's largest city.

"It was easier just to go to the airport," Struck told the News and Tribune. "On the fourth night, we told the kids, 'Hey, we're not going to New Zealand unless miraculously we walk in and the flight actually leaves.' Literally, we told the kids to be packed and ready to go to the United States, and then the plane actually left."

When the team finally arrived in New Zealand, they got to work at the Auckland City Championship, where a handful of Indiana wrestlers actually defeated New Zealand national champions in the age brackets en route to medal-winning performances. Similar success followed at a dual meet in Katikati, New Zealand, where the Indiana squad went 17-4.

That's when Struck started to relax … prematurely. After extending the trip three days to ensure the team got to wrestle in a second event in New Zealand, Struck assumed he was also buying enough time to ensure the ash cloud would move enough to allow a direct passage home through the air. It turns out he didn't, with the team facing either a flight of 24-or-more hours via Hong Kong and Los Angeles or another full week in New Zealand.

Struck picked the latter, and he and his team eventually arrived back with plenty more memories than they expected, even if many were made in unfamiliar airports.

"It was a great experience," Struck said. "The worst problem we had with a kid was one of them was a minute late to a practice. The kids were outstanding. They never once complained."

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