• March 4, 2021

Super Bowl of Marijuana Busts: In 1980 a DC-7 Was Captured on Frozen Tundra

 Super Bowl of Marijuana Busts: In 1980 a DC-7 Was Captured on Frozen Tundra

Photo courtesy of the South Dakota State Historical Society

If it hadn’t been for the ice fishermen, they might have gotten away with it. But as it turned out, a smugglers’ plan to run a bunch of marijuana bales into a South Dakota field near the town of Akaska on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River 40 years ago became what is now known as the Super Bowl of Pot Busts.

If you’re not familiar with the event — and if you don’t live in South Dakota, you probably aren’t — it took place on Super Bowl Sunday, Jan. 20, 1980, in the state where voters in November, for the first time, legalized medical marijuana for patients and recreational marijuana for adults in the same election.

But the Super Bowl of Busts has come up again after a woman named Pat Kwasniewski donated items from the event to the South Dakota State Historical Society. Included are 34 photos of the drug seizure, arrests and trial, two burlap bags that held some of the bounty, and a commemorative T-shirt with the words “Biggest Bust in South Dakota, Akaska International, 1980” emblazoned across the front.

“It’s a pretty famous happening, the biggest bust in South Dakota history,” Katy Schmidt, curator of collections for the state, told The News Station. “A lot of law enforcement was involved. A gentleman who was part of the investigation and bust had a collection of photos and newspaper articles and two burlap bags. He passed away, and his widow wanted to give them to a place where they would be taken care of and safe.”

If, like me, you haven’t heard of the Super Bowl of Pot Busts, this was long before social media would have made it go “viral.” As the Associated Press wrote at the time, “A four-engine DC-7 airplane, which landed on a bluff along the Missouri River on that Super Bowl Sunday, when many people were in front of their televisions, carried approximately 26,000 pounds of baled Colombian marijuana. The street value of the marijuana (in 1980 dollars) was estimated at $18 million.”

Far below them on the river, five fishermen heard — and then saw — the plane disappear. Concerned, they jumped in their pickup trucks and headed for the bluff. They expected a crash site, but instead they found the plane intact and a truck parked near it. The pilot tried to explain, but quickly jumped into the truck and fled.

The fishermen got into the plane, which is when they found every square inch except the cockpit stuffed with bales of cannabis flower. They took one bale and headed for the local sheriff’s office, where they told their tale.

As it turns out, the traffickers had flown earlier to Columbia to pick up the pot, and planned to transfer the bales onto semi-trailers and sell it in Minneapolis, about 400 miles away. And yes, they planned it for Super Bowl Sunday, when they figured everyone would be glued to their television sets. What they didn’t count on were the ice fishermen. Six suspects wound up being charged, and the DC-7 confiscated and sold to help offset court costs. 

“We collect with intent to put on display,” Schmidt says about the collection. For now, the photos and bags will be stored, and she doesn’t know if or when the items will be exhibited. “Our collection is roughly 34,000 pieces, and we have about 13,000 square of display space.”

Schmidt says that the photos were shipped to the state archives, while the burlap bags went to the museum. She wasn’t sure whether the photos would be digitized and added to the state’s collection of online historical photos.

She said the timing of the donations had nothing to do with the state legalizing cannabis for medical and recreational use in the recent election. “It was just a coincidence that we got this at the same time.”

Leland Rucker

Leland Rucker is a journalist who has been covering the cannabis industry culture since Amendment 64 legalized adult-use in Colorado, for Boulder Weekly, Sensi and now TheNewsStation.com. He covered the popular music industry for years, worked extensively in internet and cable news, and co-authored The Toy Book, a history of OK Boomer playthings. Sweet Lunacy, his documentary film co-written and produced with Don Chapman, is a history of the Boulder music scene from the 1950s through the 1980s. He is author and editor of Dimensional Cannabis, the first pop-up book of marijuana.

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