Local News

Man-made snowstorm traps Raleigh tourists in China

Posted November 3, 2009 4:54 p.m. EST
Updated November 4, 2009 9:32 a.m. EST

— A man-made snowstorm forced more than 100 business executives and politicians from the Raleigh area to sit in an airplane on the tarmac at a Beijing airport for 13 hours Sunday.

The group was on a nine-day trip to China, sponsored by the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce, that was designed for people to gain new business contacts and see sights from the Great Wall to the Forbidden City.

"I wanted to learn more about the culture, and we did," said Phylis Sharpe, whose husband, David, is in the LED business in Apex.

The group flew from Shanghai to Beijing in preparation for the flight back to the U.S. when they experienced a not-so-great wall of snow in the Chinese capital.

"When we arrived in Beijing – surprise – it was snow. It was snowing heavily," Raleigh City Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin said.

According to media reports, Chinese meteorologists seeded clouds to bring winter weather to Beijing in an effort to combat a lingering drought. The move coincided with a cold front, however, producing a heavy snowfall instead of rain.

Ground crews at the airport were caught off guard, and the plane was left sitting on the tarmac during the snowstorm.

"It took them forever to get (the plane) de-iced," David Sharpe said.

"We were on the plane almost 13 hours before taking off," Baldwin said, calling the experience hellish.

"If part of the agenda was 12 hours sitting on a plane, I wouldn't have signed up for it," David Sharpe said.

The delay was only the start of the arduous journey back home. The actual flight lasted another 12 hours, meaning everyone spent more than a day on the plane.

"I experienced 1:45 a.m. twice (on the plane)," Baldwin said.

Once the plane landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, almost everyone had missed their connecting flights home and had to pay out of pocket to purchase new tickets.

"I think that what happened is unfortunate because that's the taste that many people are going to be left with," Baldwin said. "I'm kind of treating this as child birth (and use) selective memory. I'm going to remember the good parts, and that's what I'm going to focus on."

The group arrived back in the Triangle on Monday.

"We got home safe. That was the bottom line," Phylis Sharpe said with a laugh.