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Passenger’s Jest No Laughing Matter

January 11, 1985

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) _ Attorneys for a ″singing cowboy″ from Iowa say he was only joking when he used a charter airplane’s public-address system to tell passengers that the plane was about to crash-land.

But the joke went sour when a 74-year-old woman sued Air California and the cowboy for more than $250,000 in damages, claiming she thought the plane actually was going to crash.

″I thought I was going to die,″ the plaintiff, Adeline Miller of Rochester, Minn., said Thursday as the first witness in the trial.

Mrs. Miller was among 162 people aboard the Air California charter flight returning to Rochester from a three-day trip to Las Vegas, Nev., on Jan. 29, 1983.

As the plane neared Rochester, Larry White, described by his attorney as a fun-loving ″singing cowboy″ from Waukon, Iowa, thought the other passengers should recognize a woman from Harmony, Minn., who had won $62,000 gambling.

Stewardesses showed White, who had admittedly been drinking, to the front of the plane and turned the PA system over to him. The suit contends White cracked a few jokes, including a good news-bad news story:

″The bad news is the landing gear won’t go down and we’re going to crash- land. The good news is the pilot’s experienced at it,″ the suit quotes White as telling the passengers.

White then led the group in a rendition of the country-western song, ″Lord, It’s Hard to Be Humble,″ the suit said. The passengers applauded, the stewardesses gave him a bottle of wine and he returned to his seat.

″He thought everybody had a good time until he received notice of this suit,″ White’s attorney, Philip Pfaffly, told U.S. District Judge Robert Renner at a pretrial hearing this week in St. Paul.

Since the incident, Mrs. Miller told the jury she regularly has been seeing a doctor and a psychologist. She said she has developed a fear of flying, is nervous and suffers from loss of appetite.

The woman’s attorney, Jonathan Gallop, said he will prove that Mrs. Miller is suffering from a post-traumatic stress disorder caused by the incident.

Air California attorney Donald Mark Chance Jr. said no one went forward at the time to complain about White, and even Mrs. Miller’s son joined in the laughter.

″Charter flights are different than regular flights,″ airline attorney Donald Mark Chance Jr. told the jury. ″They can be more jovial, more festive. And there was a great deal of joyous celebration on this flight.″

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