Michigan basketball team plane slides off runway; all safe
Update: The Wolverines took off on a new plane this morning and made it to D.C.
Everyone is safe after a plane carrying the University of Michigan men's basketball team crashed while trying to take off from Willow Run Airport on Wednesday afternoon.
The plane was trying to take off to deliver the team to the Big Ten tournament in Washington, D.C., but high winds caused problems, causing the takeoff to be aborted, U-M spokesman Tom Wywrot said in a brief e-mail to reporters.
"After attempting to take off in high winds, takeoff was aborted and, after strong braking, the plane slid off the runway. The plane sustained extensive damage but everyone on board was safely evacuated and is safe. The team is making alternate travel plans," according to the e-mail.
Head coach John Beilein said it was a scary situation.
“Everybody is pretty shook up. There’s only minor injuries. The big thing to know is we have no major injuries. We do have some minor injuries, but nothing appears to be major. Everybody’s good. It could have been much worse."
Michigan's travel plan was revealed around 10:30 p.m. Wednesday night.
The Wolverines are scheduled to meet at 6 a.m. Thursday to head to the airport, leave from Detroit Metro at 7:30 a.m., landing in D.C. at 8:45 a.m., and then go straight for the Verizon Center.
They'll tip off at noon against Illinois as originally scheduled.
There were seven crew members and 109 passengers on board on the flight operated by Ameristar Charters, which went off the end of Runway 23L shortly before 3 p.m., airport spokeswoman Erica Donerson said in an e-mail to the Free Press. The Airport Authority Public Safety and Operations teams responded to the crash. At 5 p.m., the airport was still closed.
Bryan Tilley, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in White Lake Township, said the system at the airport was not reporting from noon-4 p.m., possibly because of a power outage.
Observations at Ann Arbor Municipal Airport and Detroit Metropolitan Airport were reported about 2:53 p.m. today, minutes before the incident. At Ann Arbor Municipal Airport, southwest winds were blowing at 33 m.p.h., gusting to 53 m.p.h. West winds were blowing at 38 m.p.h. at Detroit Metropolitan Airport, gusting to 51 m.p.h., Tilley said.
He said conditions at those airports are "very similar" to Willow Run Airport — "very representative."
Those on the plane called parents after the crash.
Derrick Walton Sr., dad of senior point guard Derrick Walton Jr., got a call from his son shortly after the incident.
“He called me," Walton Sr. said. "I wasn’t scared. I was cool. I took it to a higher power. He wasn’t scared, but his mother called and she was scared. He’s all right. He’s fine. He didn’t tell me he was scared. He called and his phone clicked off."
Richard Myrick of Farmington Hills said he received a telephone call from his daughter, Erica Myrick, a University of Michigan cheerleader, who informed him of the plane crash and said that she and everyone else was OK.
“They were on their way to D.C. at Willow Run, and apparently, right after the pilot brought the wheels of the plane off the ground, the wheels came back down and they crashed through a number of gates,” Richard Myrick said.
“There were no injuries reported, according to my daughter. They are actually loading up on a bus to head to D.C.”
On board was the basketball team, the cheerleading team, band members and members of the coaching staff's families. The plane was scheduled to take off around 2 p.m.
"It puts so much in perspective right now," Beilein told Dave LewAllen of WXYZ-TV at the airport in a video posted on twitter. "Everybody's safe. We've got a few people banged up a little bit, a few cuts, a few bruises, but other than that, everybody's healthy. And it could have been much worse. The way the flight attendants, the pilots, the student-athletes, everybody, the students, the staff, everybody conducted themselves, it was incredible. We were off that plane, going down those chutes, going out on the wing, getting out of there in a minute. Seemed like everybody got off that plane (fast.) Everybody was really disciplined and a lot of poise."
Beilein told WXYZ-TV: "I think the best decision right now is to wait until tomorrow. Just get up early and go. I do not think it’s wise still with this wind — our players, our students, our staff, our cheerleaders, our band, probably not a good idea to go up again today.
"Their families and everyone. I really feel blessed right now. It’s only an airplane that was destroyed, no lives were destroyed in that."
Free Press staff writers Perry A. Farrell, Chris Thomas, Mark Snyder, Bill Laitner and Christina Hall contributed to this report. Contact David Jesse: 313-222-8851 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @reporterdavidj.