Michigan team plane slides off runway, players safe
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — A plane carrying the Michigan men's basketball team slid off a runway during an aborted takeoff Wednesday, causing extensive damage to the aircraft and forcing passengers to exit through emergency doors onto wings and slides at Willow Run Airport.
The 109 passengers and seven crew members didn't suffer injuries, according to the Wayne County Airport Authority, which said the airport in Ypsilanti about 15 miles from campus was closed. The National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration will investigate the accident, according to authority spokesman Brian Lassaline.
Michigan was due to face Illinois in the Big Ten Tournament in Washington, D.C., at noon Thursday and the Wolverines said they would be able to make it — even though they will arrive later than planned. A 7:30 a.m. flight out of Detroit was expected to arrive at 8:45 a.m., with the team heading straight to the Verizon Center where a win against the Illini will bolster their hopes of making the NCAA Tournament.
"We have worked quickly to arrange alternative travel arrangements for the Michigan travel party," athletic director Warde Manuel said. "We have been in constant contact with the Big Ten Conference and appreciate their support and willingness to work with us as we sorted through all of the issues."
Wind gusts topped 60 mph in the Detroit area Wednesday and DTE Energy said nearly 500,000 of its customers in southeastern Michigan were without power.
Team spokesman Tom Wywrot said the takeoff was aborted and "after strong braking," the plane slid off the runway and "sustained extensive damage." The aircraft skidded through a fence, across an access road and came to a stop off a low embankment. Tyler Davis, a team manager, tweeted a brief video of the aftermath and coach John Beilein stood on the ground, near smoking plane engines, to assist people coming off an emergency exit slide.
"I don't think I felt fear until I was on the field and all I thought about was my family and the people around me," Wywrot said in a telephone interview.
He praised the orderly way in which the passengers got off the plane.
"Without hesitation, the staff on that plane and the people — our staff, our players — on the plane knew what to do got off the plane fast and ran," Wywrot said. "I'm very thankful and very happy for that. People were helping each other and nobody blinked. The emergency doors were taken off and we all got out.."