Members of the Jazz described fearing for their lives after their team plane struck a flock of birds as it was taking off at Salt Lake City International Airport Tuesday afternoon, which resulted in the plane’s left jet engine failing and catching fire and requiring an emergency landing back at the airport.
Players addressed reporters on Wednesday night following their 111-107 win over the Grizzlies in Memphis. Guard Jordan Clarkson said, “It got to that point where we were all on the plane like, ‘This might be really the end.’ I mean, it was a crazy situation. I understand fully why [Donovan Mitchell] didn’t come.”
Mitchell, the Jazz’s leading scorer, did not travel to Memphis for what the team described as personal reasons. Mitchell has previously acknowledged his fear of flying. Head coach Quinn Snyder elected not to publicly comment on the specifics of Mitchell’s absence.
Snyder did, however, say that the team re-convened on Wednesday morning to discuss the events of the day prior.
“I don’t know that an experience like that is just suddenly passed on and away. 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.”
Following the emergency landing back at the airport, Jazz players eventually boarded a new plane and departed for Memphis later Tuesday evening.
Still, the impact of the earlier incident lingered.
“For a good 10 or 15 minutes, I think all of us on that flight were questioning if we were going to be here today. That’s how serious it was for us,” veteran point guard Mike Conley said Thursday.
“I can’t speak for everybody, but I know that guys were trying to text family just in case, you know? It was that kind of situation.”