JOHN CUSACK GOES EYE-TO-EYE WITH IVAN THE TERRIBLE

Published on: October 12, 2004

Actor John Cusack poked "Ivan the Terrible" in the eye--and lived to talk about it!

"Runaway Jury" star Cusack and professional surfer Laird Hamilton flew through the eye of Hurricane Ivan as the huge storm churned toward Florida last month, to research a movie they're making on freak weather.

"It was fantastic!" Cusack told a friend. "It was scary, exciting and thrilling, all at the same time. The eye of a hurricane is an awesome thing to experience. I loved it!

"At times, it was like being in a clothes dryer with incredible wind gusts shaking the whole plane. The worst part was when the plane suddenly plunged like a brick. It felt like my stomach left my body.

"We flew 125 miles through rough weather with it getting worse every minute--lashing rain and furious winds--until we reached the eye, which was between 15 and 45 miles in diameter.

"In the eye, it was eerily calm like on a nice summer's day. Then, within minutes, we were at the other side--back in the fury of the storm." Cusack and Hamilton, who's married to model Gabrielle Reece, peppered the crew with questions about their training, the ultrasophisticated weather equipment and the risks of the mission.

They also took dozens of pictures of the crew and the instruments inside the big plane, called "Hercules," during the 12-hour flight.

CREW IMPRESSED
Even the military men on board, who were gathering weather information for the National Hurricane Center in Miami, were impressed with the duo's courage.

"They were brilliant--true professionals," said Lt. Col. Mike Odom, spokesman for the Air Force Reserve's Hurricane Hunters based at Biloxi, Miss.

200 MPH WINDS!
"They were on board our C-130, going back and forth through the center of Ivan, as it passed the southern coast of Cuba.

"It was a very powerful hurricane with winds topping 200 m.p.h. The plane was severely buffeted and dropped like a stone without warning several times for 200 feet.

"It can be scary, but Cusack and Hamilton handled it like pros."

--JAMES McCANDLISH