Republican, Gazette: UMass Staff, Players Lucky To Be Alive - UMass Athletics

Republican, Gazette: UMass Staff, Players Lucky To Be Alive

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Sampson Carter remembers flying on a faulty airplane that was spitting smoke in the cockpit as it cruised above the clouds.

"Your brain becomes a collage, thinking of good times and bad times,'' the University of Massachusetts men's basketball player said. "Looking down ... that's a hard fall.''

Carter and the rest of the UMass entourage made an emergency landing Tuesday in Albany, N.Y. Thus ended a harrowing 15 minutes that, according to UMass personnel, saw flight attendants running through the aisles and thumbing through procedural manuels, after smoke was detected in the cockpit.

Read the detailed and graphic stories in the Springfield Republican and Daily Hampshire Gazette.


Players, staff members feel lucky to be alive after UMass basketball plane's abrupt landing

Published: Wednesday, January 26, 2011, 3:11 PM     Updated: Wednesday, January 26, 2011, 7:49 PM
UMass Men's Basketball vs BrandeisUMass foreward Sampson Carter and the rest of his team's entourage made a scary, emergency landing Tuesday at the airport in Albany, N.Y.

OLEAN, N.Y. - Sampson Carter remembers flying on a faulty airplane that was spitting smoke in the cockpit as it cruised above the clouds.

"Your brain becomes a collage, thinking of good times and bad times,'' the University of Massachusettsmen's basketball player said.

"Looking down ... that's a hard fall.''

Carter and the rest of the UMass entourage made an emergency landing Tuesday in Albany, N.Y. Thus ended a harrowing 15 minutes that, according to UMass personnel, saw flight attendants running through the aisles and thumbing through procedural manuels, after smoke was detected in the cockpit.

After a sharp, downward turn that passengers likened to a hard right by a car on a highway, the plane landed safely in Albany Tuesday at about 4 p.m. Supplied a second plane by the charter airline company, World Atlantic, the team later proceeded to Bradford, Pa., where they landed safely late Tuesday night.

UMass was flying to its game on Wednesday night at St. Bonaventure University in Olean, N.Y.

The safe completion of the journey allowed players and coaches to smile about the experience Wednesday. But they did not downplay the frightening moments that began soon after the charter had lifted off from Westover Air Reserve Base, with 33 UMass personnel and a crew of seven on board.

"I was scared. It's out of our hands. All you can do is pray,'' senior guard Gary Correia told media.


"Stuff happens. You try to keep your mind off it, you try not to think about death, but I'm happy to be alive,'' said Carter, a sophomore forward.

Sports information director Jason Yellin said the experience immediately brought back memories of the Jan. 27, 2001 crash of a flight carrying members of the Oklahoma State men's basketball entourage - 10 years ago Thursday.

Publicity surrounding the anniversary of that crash made it fresh in the mind of Yellin, who knew a few of the 10 victims personally. Broadcasters and two players were among those who died in the 2001 crash.

That tragedy occurred during a snowstorm - unlike the UMass malfunction, which took place during calm weather.

"It's so scary. I was thinking of my wife, my family, my kids,'' Yellin said.

"Oklahoma State was fresh in my mind. I was at Maryland, we had just beaten Duke and I heard the breaking news - it made me sick.''

UMass players who did not relate to such a personal memory were still frightened.

"Guys were looking straight ahead,'' said freshman Jordan Couture, a walk-on guard from West Springfield and Cathedral High School.

"Your heart is just pumping inside,'' said Couture, who is a cousin and godson of Derek Kellogg, the UMass coach.

Couture said Trey Lang tried to add levity to the situation. At one point, Lang suggested the game at St. Bonaventure be called off, with the outcome decided by video game, instead.

But Lang, a junior forward whose father is former NBA player Andrew Lang, said the experience made it hard to reboard after a new plane was supplied by the charter company to finish the flight.

"I was ready to bus the whole way. It was pretty tough to get back on a plane after that,'' Lang said.

"It was scary, but the next flight went all right. I'm just glad everyone is OK.''

"I definitely would have preferred a bus, but that's just the way of life. It was OK,'' Couture said.

Before the second flight was booked, serious consideration was given to finishing the trip by bus from Albany to Olean, a distance of just over 300 miles.

"I'm not a big fan of flying, anyway,'' Kellogg said.

"I said before we got on another plane, maybe they should give it a couple of test laps around New England.''

In fact, that's what happened. The second plane had been used to transport the Villanova team to Providence.

It was sent to Albany at the completion of its first trip. UMass players spent six hours at the airport, watching college basketball on TV or by computer.

They also conducted an impromptu "walk-through'' practice in the airport, which was largely empty.

During the brief, unsettling first flight, "I tried to keep calm, because the guys are looking up to the coach and you want them to think everything is fine. But I was actually somewhat frightened,'' Kellogg said.

He gave credence to the common reference associated with such moments - that a person's life passes before his eyes.

"I thought of my wife, my son, and all the people at UMass, including those on the plane for whom I'm responsible,'' he said..

"It was a little chaotic. When you see the flight attendant running a 4.4-second 40 (yard dash) through the aisle, you know something is up.''

After the first plane landed safely, Kellogg said the pilot and crew apologized for the scare. There was no explanation of what caused the malfunction in the cockpit.

"We haven't heard one yet. I'd like one,'' Kellogg said Wednesday.

UMass is chartering for two of its four flight trips this season. Such trips cost $25,000 or more, but they allow players to miss only one day of class time instead of three with commercial flight.

The school has often used World Atlantic for its charters, with no previous issues.

The Minutemen practiced as scheduled Wednesday afternoon, hours before the game. Even after arriving in Olean, they were reminded of the capriciousness of travel.

"We got up to leave from the hotel, and our bus wouldn't start,'' Kellogg said. "But we're here.''


UMass players, staff describe scene, thoughts during emergency landing

OLEAN, N.Y. - As he watched an airplane flight attendant sprint up the aisle Tuesday, University of Massachusetts men's basketball coach Derek Kellogg tried to project calm for his players, but quietly he was praying.

Sports information director Jason Yellin couldn't help but think of the plane crash that claimed the lives of 10 people aboard an Oklahoma State basketball charter flight almost exactly 10 years ago.

Amid a smell of something burning, the UMass charter flight from Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee to Bradford, Pa., was abruptly rerouted to Albany International Airport Tuesday afternoon. The pilot announced to the 32 people on board that there was smoke in the cockpit before making what many on board described as "a hard right turn" back toward Albany.

The World Atlantic Airlines MD80 aircraft landed without incident. The team deplaned as firefighters came aboard to investigate.

"I was somewhat nervous, thinking about my wife and my son (who weren't on the trip) and all the players and support staff on the plane that I'm pretty much responsible for," Kellogg said. "I was really praying, hoping things would end up the way they did. I tried not to look nervous so people would look up and think 'Coach is fine, he must think nothing is going on.' But any time they tell you there's smoke in the cockpit and you can smell something I was a little nervous. I've had one where the plane rocked with some turbulence, but nothing like this. I think that was a serious situation."

Yellin said he's been flying with teams for years, but never encountered anything like that.

"It's so scary. I was thinking of my wife, my family, my kids," Yellin said. "Oklahoma State was fresh in my mind. I was working at Maryland (at the time). We had just beaten Duke. We were out at a restaurant celebrating. It came on the TV as breaking news. It made me sick to my stomach."

Sophomore forward Sampson Carter tried to stay calm.

"You try not to think about death. Your brain is a collage," Carter said. "You think about the good times and the bad times. Stuff happens. I'm happy to be alive. The plane was flying above the clouds. Looking down ... that's a hard fall."

Assistant coach Antwon Jackson didn't like flying before Tuesday and this didn't help.

"It's tough knowing that everything is out of your control to begin with. For that to happen was a little rattling," he said. "It felt great to land. I was the happiest guy when we got on the ground."

The Minutemen use charter planes, which cost over $25,000 per round trip, for midweek games because it allows the players to miss only one day of classes instead of three on a commercial airline. They're also supposed to making flying more convenient and more comfortable. But neither happened on the trip to St. Bonaventure.

After landing after 4:15 p.m., the team spent about six hours in the airport, most of it in Million Air, an airport lounge.

With their practice at St. Bonaventure canceled, the Minutemen held a walk-through in the airport. After their second charter arrived, the team didn't reach Olean until around 2 a.m. Junior big man Trey Lang wasn't excited about getting back on the second flight.

"It was pretty scary," said Lang, who suggested on Twitter that the teams play the game on Xbox instead. "I'm just glad everyone was all right. It was pretty tough to get back on a plane after that. I was ready to bus the whole way. But luckily our next flight went pretty well."

The team was scheduled to fly a charter home after Wednesday's game, but remained in Olean until Thursday as a result of the snowstorm and because World Atlantic planned to use the same plane that made the emergency landing. UMass chose to wait for better weather and a different airplane.

ODD HISTORY IN THE RIVALRY - It's always something with UMass and St. Bonaventure.

For two Atlantic 10 schools, there have been more than their share of national stories connected to their annual meetings, which usually have nothing to do with actual basketball.

The Minutemen's flight scare Tuesday night was the third in an odd series of events that have preceded UMass-SBU games.

In 1996, it was at St. Bonaventure that Marcus Camby collapsed prior to the Minutemen's game against the Bonnies. UMass was ranked No. 1 at the time and Camby was in the midst of a season that won him several national player of the year honors.

His collapse, the cause of which was never explained, was national news. He missed the game and stayed in a local hospital for two days and returned 13 days later.

In 2002, St. Bonaventure learned late in the season that big man Jamil Terrell had been declared ineligible because he had earned a welding certificate, not an associate's degree at his junior college. The Bonnies, who'd been a contender for postseason play, were forced to forfeit all of their prior wins.

UMass was supposed to host St. Bonaventure's next game, but the Bonnies players chose to forfeit the game and quit the remainder of their season.

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