Utah Jazz stars have spoken of their horror when the charter flight they were traveling on was forced into an emergency landing when an engine fire broke out after the aircraft hit a flock of birds.
Jazz players and staff were traveling from Salt Lake City to Memphis on Tuesday when the Delta Boeing 757 ran into the birds shortly after take off, causing the left engine to fail.
The pilot safely landed, and the team later took a different plane to Memphis – albeit without teammate Donovan Mitchell on board – where they recorded a 111-107 win against the Grizzlies on Wednesday night.
Despite ending without physical injuries, the incident significantly shook up a number of the Jazz players and staff on board.
“It felt like there was an explosion,” Jazz point guard Mike Conley said after Wednesday’s game.
“We hit something big, the plane immediately started to bunce and tilted to the left, the people at the back saw flames, the people at the front didn’t know what was going on…
“It felt like the plane was breaking apart in midair. For five or 10 minutes, it felt like complete helplessness. We’re thankful it wasn’t as serious as it could have been, but it was scary.”
Fellow Jazz star Jordan Clarkson also discussed the team’s fears.
“It got to that point where we were all on the plane like, ‘This might be really the end,'” Clarkson said. “I mean, it was a crazy situation. I understand fully why Don didn’t come…
“A lot of us really came to a point… at least 30 seconds in that flight, everybody came to the point where it was like, ‘Man, it might be over for us.’ It’s sad to say that. I don’t play with death or anything like that.
“It’s just something that we’ve got to push through and come together and keep going, stay strong, support each other.
“How much time we’ve got to take off, or talking to our mental health people or whatever it is, that’s a serious situation if you’ve never been faced with life and death.”
Jazz coach Quin Snyder said the team had talked through the incident on Wednesday to help overcome any lingering psychological damage.
“Everybody’s impacted in different ways, all very significant,” he said.
“And it wasn’t something that we were going to solve by just talking through everything, but I think it was important to acknowledge what we all went through [Tuesday], and, really, that same feeling of gratitude and appreciation for the fragility that we all live with, sometimes without being aware of it.”
A number of players including Mitchell had shared their relief after the incident, posting a series of prayer emojis on social media.
Mitchell was said to have missed Wednesday’s game for “personal reasons”, although it’s unclear whether he will be affected for road games in the near future.
Photos of the plane after the emergency landing showed damage to the engine and nose, which appeared to smeared in blood from the birds it had collided with.