Jazz players feared for their lives during harrowing plane ride

Players on the Utah Jazz are grateful to be able to tell their story after a harrowing plane ride on Tuesday. The engine of the team’s charter plane caught on fire after colliding with some birds, and for a few minutes they weren’t sure if they were going to make it back alive. 

The pilots were able to take the plane safely back down for an emergency landing, but the experience isn’t something that Jordan Clarkson or Mike Conley will forget anytime soon.

‘It might be over for us’

After the Jazz’s 111-107 win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday, Clarkson spoke to the media about what happened on the plane when it collided with the birds, and how he and his teammates reacted. 

“So, where I sit on the plane is where I could see the engine and everything. I happened to be being a bad kid and kind of getting up and grabbing something out of my bag while we were taking off. And I just remember walking back to my seat and as I got to my seat, I just hear a loud bang. Me and Mike [Conley] looked at each other and he was like, oh, ‘that was the birds!’ I guess, Mike, had seen the birds passing through the window and then was seeing it as it was happening. So all I heard was a bang. And then I turned to look out the window and saw the whole engine shaking and everything.

“And then you see everybody in the back kind of like reacting to what’s going on. And a lot of people in the back that were sitting like behind the engine, they had seen a burst of flames. So immediately, they’re probably thinking the plane is fully caught on fire. And I see everybody kind of reacting towards that. And just recalling — that whole situation was pretty crazy. The whole plane just started shaking.

“It’s definitely an experience that I’m happy to be able to tell, because, like I said, a lot of us really came to like a point, at least 30 seconds in that flight, everybody came to the point where it was like — this might be over for us. And, you know, it’s sad to say that. And I don’t play with death, or any anything like that.”

Story continues

Clarkson said that the pilot got on the intercom a few minutes later to explain that they had lost an engine, and that they were going to be able to land somewhere. When he heard that, he was relieved. 

“It was definitely a calming kind of thing once the pilot got on there, he was super calm and, you know, let us know what was going on,” Clarkson said via the Salt Lake Tribune. “And, we got down to the ground, shout out to him for landing, getting us back safe, all of that.”

‘It felt like complete helplessness’

Conley, who was sitting by Clarkson on the team charter plane, shared his experience of the harrowing plane ride. When people saw flames, they knew it was serious, and Conley recalls some of his teammates sending texts to loved ones. 

“Well, yeah, well, for the group of us, I think it was me, JC, Joe, Miye, Favs — we’re all kind of right there in between both wings of the plane and all of a sudden it felt like there was an explosion,” Conley said via the Salt Lake Tribune. “Literally that’s what it sounded like for most people on the plane, like we hit something big and the plane immediately started to bounce and then just started tilting to the left.”

“People in the back of the plane said they saw flames. And people in the front obviously didn’t know what was going on. And immediately the altitude started to drop a little bit and we started looking down and wondering what just happened. And, nobody knows, everybody’s just quiet. You know, we’re just in shock. And it took the pilots probably five to ten minutes, probably about ten minutes to go through everything, go through their checks and get back to us and let us know what was going on, because it was obvious that something was really wrong with the plane. It felt like the plane was, like, breaking apart in midair. So for us, for five, ten minutes it felt like just just complete helplessness. So, you know, we’re thankful it wasn’t as serious as it could have been, but it was scary.

“For a good 10, 15 minutes, I think all of us on that flight were questioning if we were going to be here today. So that was how serious it was for us. I can’t speak for everybody, but I know that guys were trying to text family and just in case. It was that kind of situation. And we’re just thrilled and thankful for the pilots and the staff and what they’re able to do to get us back home safely.

“And I think a lot of us were shook up. Obviously, you don’t just go through something like that and just get back on a plane and head to go play a game again. So it put perspective on life for all of us and I say we’re just all thankful to be here and doing what we love to do.”

NBA players travel on planes a lot, so hopefully Conley, Clarkson, and the rest of the Jazz are able to process what happened and feel comfortable getting on a plane again.

Jazz players like Jordan Clarkson feared for their lives on Tuesday when one of the engines of their team charter plane caught fire. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

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