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Original Issue


Passenger 23E

Fearless, the new Warner Bros. movie about the survivors of a plane crash, opens with a shot of Jeff Bridges walking away from the wreckage out of a cornfield with a baby in his arms. Watching the movie in a Denver theater two weeks ago, Jerry Schemmel, the radio play-by-play voice of the Denver Nuggets, felt a wrenching jolt of recognition. On July 19, 1989, Schemmel, a survivor of one of the most famous plane crashes on American soil, walked out of an Iowa cornfield from the wreckage of United Airlines Flight 232 with a baby in his arms.

Schemmel, then the deputy commissioner and legal counsel of the Continental Basketball Association, and his best friend, Jay Ramsdell, CBA commissioner at the time, had boarded UA 232 in Denver after an earlier flight had been canceled because of mechanical difficulties. The last two passengers to board the DC-10, they took the only available seats, 30G (Ramsdell) and 23E (Schemmel). About one hour into the flight an explosion in one of the engines crippled the craft's hydraulic systems, and the plane crash-landed in Sioux City, Iowa. Schemmel, still strapped to his chair, viewed the horror around him. "The guy next to me was dead," he remembers. "The woman across from me was gone. The flight attendant who'd been in the jump seat facing me was gone." So was Ramsdell, one of 112 victims of the flight.

Schemmel didn't take time to mourn. He and a few others, including two-time U.S. Olympic equestrian Michael Matz, pulled dazed passengers to their feet and literally pushed them out the door. After a few minutes amid the swirling smoke and confusion, Schemmel heard a baby crying from inside the wreckage, crawled back into the plane on all fours and found the child partially buried in debris. "I pulled her up, got on my feet, got out and took off running," he says. The baby, Sabrina Michaelson, was reunited with her mother and father, Lori and Mark, who also survived the crash.

Initially Schemmel felt violated by the film, as if his life had been "ripped off," but upon reflection he has softened. "If it comes across as a way to understand how a crash victim might feel, that's fine," he says. "But I think the filmmakers exploited the people involved. They should have informed us the movie was being made, so we would've been ready for it."

Rafael Yglesias, who wrote both the screenplay and the novel on which the film was based, says that the Bridges character is not based on any single individual and that he drew his material from news accounts of several crashes.

Schemmel docs give the film a thumbs-up for its depiction of the crash from inside the aircraft. "People ask me what it was like," says Schemmel, "and I say, 'Take a look at that last scene, when Bridges flashes back to the crash. That's what I saw from seat 23E.' "

Situation Norm-al

Only six weeks into his first season in Texas, Dallas Star owner Norm Green is threatening to move his NHL franchise. He has expressed disenchantment with the absence of skyboxes in Reunion Arena, with the Stars' attendance (about 14,200 per game) and with the NBA Mavericks' control of arena advertising.

Last season, after complaining of flagging attendance and a cumbersome lease agreement, Green moved his team from the hockey-friendly Twin Cities to the football-mad Lone Star State, and, all things considered, the Stars aren't doing that badly. Their record at week's end stood at 8-8-4, and attendance, while below Green's absurd projections (he wanted to sell 12,500 season tickets), is acceptable in a town that lives and dies with the oblate spheroid.

Green may not be as unpopular in Big D as he was in Minnesota, where last season a fan called him "a greedy, money-hungry, egotistical, country-club-seeking lizard." But he's making a run at it.

Bring in the Ringers

Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird are gone, and Charles Barkley swears he'll be history by next season. But we have an ideal, not to mention patriotic, solution to the alarming problem of what these retirees will do with all the time on their hands. Two words: team handball. The sport stresses agility, quickness, court sense, jumping and that near-mystical knack of deking defenders while hanging in the air. America's best basketball players have never taken to the sport—indeed, most of them are unaware of its existence—so the U.S. is usually swallowed up on the international stage by teams like France and Sweden. (Sweden?) But that could all change with a few personnel adjustments on the national team.

Believe it or not, U.S. Team Handball Federation executive director Mike Cavanaugh has been thinking precisely along those lines. "Of the 16 players on our squad for the '96 Olympics, at least one will be a name player from another sport," says Cavanaugh. The No. 1 name he's thinking about is M. Jordan, who is more than welcome, says Cavanaugh, to bring along a few of his friends.

Kept Keeper

A ruling expected within the next three weeks from Colombia's prosecutor-general will determine whether fans at next year's World Cup finals will get to see the man that World Soccer magazine has called "the world's most spectacular goalkeeper." Renè Higuita of Colombia's World Cup team has been held without bail in a Bogotà prison since June 4. Charged with violating Colombia's 1992 antikidnapping law, Higuita faces as much as 10 years in jail if convicted.

Nicknamed El Loco for his mad dashes out of the goal box, Higuita has attracted unwanted attention for his association with drug lord Pablo Escobar, one of the world's most wanted fugitives. Higuita was first linked with Escobar when he visited the jailed cocaine kingpin in July 1991, a year before Escobar escaped the luxury prison, which he had accessorized with a hot tub, a 60-inch TV and a private soccer field.

Now Higuita stands accused of improper involvement in a kidnapping case. Without police permission he negotiated the release of the daughter of Luis Carlos Molina, a former associate of Escobar's, after she was snatched in Medellín last spring. Higuita admits he acted as a go-between but says he did so solely for humanitarian reasons—and an alleged $50,000 fee.

If the prosecutor-general, who concluded his investigation on Nov. 9, believes he acted altruistically, Higuita may be freed immediately and would likely rejoin the Colombian national team.

Being There

Nobody has ever claimed that Lincoln, Neb., is a cultural mecca. But aren't the folks at the University of Nebraska's public relations department trying just a bit too hard to dispel that image of isolation? We hereby offer highlights from page 24 of the school's football media guide, in which the earnest Huskers try to convince the reader that, hey, big-city life is practically around the corner. (Remember: We are not making this up.)

•Kansas City (194 miles) is known for the best barbecue in the Midwest along with top-notch amusement parks.

•Chicago, an easy eight-hour drive from Lincoln, is home to the NBA World Champion Chicago Bulls.

•Denver (482 miles) offers world renowned skiing in the winter and some of the best white-water rafting in the country during the warmer months.

•Minneapolis (391 miles) is home to the nation's largest shopping mall, The Mall of America.

•Dallas, nine hours south, is where the Cowboys of the NFL call home.

What the Huskers fail to point out is that after the "easy eight-hour drive" to Chicago, it's only a token nine-hour flight to London. Don't miss the mummy display at the British Museum!











Minneapolis (391 Miles)

Chicago (519 Miles)

Denver (482 Miles)

Kansas City (194 Miles)

Dallas(589 Miles)

But What Has she Done Lately?

If you find yourself wailing that today's athletes don't match up to those of yore, consider 1993 Villanova graduate Nnenna Lynch (above), who last week was named the NCAA's Woman of the Year. She'll probably change your mind.

A 1,500- and 3,000-meter runner, Lynch finished her Wildcat career as an eight-time All-America. In 1992 she was the NCAA outdoor 3,000-meter champion and reached the final of the Olympic trials. Meanwhile, she maintained a 3.93 grade point average and became the first Rhodes scholar in the 150-year history of Villanova. And she accomplished all that while working part-time as a model.

Is that it? Not really. The NCAA, which chose Lynch from 500 nominees, also pointed to her work in a Philadelphia soup kitchen and to her role in founding Athletes Against Alcohol (Abuse). Lynch says her dream is to open a network of community centers for underprivileged youth after she completes her studies in social anthropology at Oxford. "I talk to reporters all the time about Nnenna," says Villanova coach Marty Stern. "I just say, 'She should be president.' "

Give her time.

This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
Don King, who was inexplicably invited to speak at Penn's Wharton School of Business last week, urged the future CEOs to "rhapsodize and soliloquize."

They Said It

•Bert Sugar, editor of Boxing Illustrated, on ballyhooed heavyweight Tommy Morrison, who recently suffered his second loss as a pro: "Morrison proved that he is an ambidextrous fighter. He can get knocked out with either hand."