October 02, 2010
He Hang Glided From the Butte
I have always attempted to do honor to all things “Thunder Butte” on this blog, so it is appropriate to mention the life of a man who jumped off the butte, flew away into the air, and lived to tell about it. Donald Dunn was born in Bison in 1942 and grew up on a ranch southeast of Coal Springs. He raised a family and passed away suddenly near Meadow at the age of 68. According to the obituary that ran in the Mobridge Tribune last month:
“Aviation was Donald's lifelong passion. Over the years he owned and piloted numerous airplanes, a hot air balloon, an experimental ultra-light aircraft, and accumulated many ‘project fuselages.’ He thrilled his passengers with hammerhead and dive bomb stunts and could land anywhere. He astounded friends by hang gliding off of Thunder Butte. He often went "airport bumming," visiting airports to watch the airplanes and swap stories with other pilots.”
Stu Surma mentioned to me that “about twenty years ago, he brought his hot air balloon to the Isabel Rodeo Arena. Just before the rodeo, he fired it up and went floating off to the southwest. It was just beautiful.”
I have to admit that it would never occur to me to hang glide off of Thunder Butte. Our Native American friends consider it a sacred place, and it is quiet – almost like a church – up there. It’s a good place to go meditate. So, it does take quite some imagination and perhaps a mischievous streak to think of using the butte as the launching point for an ultralight aircraft. Because the sides of the butte are mostly gentle slopes, too, you wouldn’t have much margin for error to avoid slamming into the ground. And, you would need a really good wind. Donald had the wind when he jumped that day. One likes to think that he’s now on his second wind.