The month of March was a whirlwind for the University of Michigan men’s basketball team.
Things looked bleak for the Wolverines as the calendar moved from February to March. They were sitting at 20-11 overall with legitimate chances at earning a high seed in the 2017 NCAA Tournament pretty much thrown out of the window.
Then, aboard an airplane set to take off toward Washington D.C. for the 2017 Big Ten Tournament, the unthinkable happened.
The plane that was carrying the team and 109 total passengers skidded off the runway at Willow Run Airport in Ypsilanti, Michigan and crashed across the street. It finally came to rest about 1,000 feet past the end of the airport’s runway.
Aside from a couple bumps and bruises — and a cut to guard Zak Irvin’s thigh that required stitches — nobody was seriously injured as a result of the terrifying incident.
Once the dust settled from the potentially horrific incident, something happened to refocus the team, and Michigan found itself two games away from the Final Four in the 2017 NCAA Tournament.
Here’s what you need to know about the Michigan basketball team and the plane crash:
1. The Plane Was Travelling About 150 MPH When It Skidded Off the Runway
Initial news reports weren’t able to put the whole situation into perspective.
Michigan coach John Beilein said that reporting that it’s a plane “skidding off the runway” didn’t paint the right picture. Instead, the plane was traveling extremely fast as it attempted to get off of the runway, Beilein said.
It wasn’t just a plane skidding off a runway. It was full going, 150 miles an hour, we can’t stop. And our kids got — thank goodness the plane didn’t flip. All kinds of things could have happened once we got off the plane and looked.
He said that crews aboard the plan acted quickly to ensure safety, but it was a very scary situation. Thankfully, the plane didn’t strike any large objects or slide any further, otherwise the crash may have had fatal results.
2. The Plane Malfunctioned Because of an Equipment Issue
The National Transportation Safety Board issued an update to the incident March 22 and said that the cause seems to be an equipment malfunction.
The statement said that while probable cause and a conclusion hasn’t yet determined, preliminary information and details have been found.
The NTSB said that a post-accident examination found that the “right elevator” on the plane was jammed into a “trailing edge-down position.” Further inspection showed that the elevator on the plane was damaged and restricted movement.
When investigators tried to move the elevator surfaces by hand, the left elevator moved normally, but the right elevator was jammed in a trailing edge-down position (airplane nose down). Upon further inspection, the right elevator geared tab inboard pushrod linkage was found damaged which restricted movement of the right elevator surface but allowed movement of the control tab. After the damaged components were removed, the elevator could be moved by hand.
On airplanes, elevators help control the pitch on the aircraft and provide measurements to how far the nose of a plane is tilted up or down.
3. Players On the Team Described the Incident as a ‘Life-Changing’ Experience
After the plane came to a halt and crews gave passengers the all clear, the 109 people — players, coaches, band members and cheerleaders — exited the aircraft via emergency slides from the entrance/exit doors.
Some players on the Wolverines described the whole incident as a scary, life-altering situation.
Senior point guard Derrick Walton Jr. said the incident was “one of those memories that will stay with me for the rest of my life.”
Wolverines senior Sean Lonergan told MLive.com that the crash helped increase the toughness of the team.
“Guys became accountable,” he said to the website.. “Guys started taking things personally. Frankly, we got tougher. I think this all epitomized that.”
Beilein said that he was shaken after the incident and is happy that the equipment malfunction happened while the plane was still on the ground.
I tried not to think what could have happened, particularly if the plane would have got up in the air. I don’t think it makes it. If it gets up a little bit, now we’ve got a whole different deal. Thank goodness the pilot put on the brakes. We’re just blessed.
4. The Team Had to Wear Their Practice Jerseys Because Their Game Jerseys Were Left on the Plane
All items aboard the plane at the time of the crash were left as the NTSB investigated the incident. Because of that, the Wolverines had to wear their practice jerseys for their first game of the Big Ten Tournament.
The Wolverines were able to board another plane and arrive in D.C., though the tip-off for the game had to be delayed about 20 minutes.
When the game started, Michigan looked as feisty on both sides of the ball as ever. They were coming off a lopsided 93-57 victory against Nebraska, and beat Illinois 75-55 to move onto the tournament’s second round.
5. The Wolverines Lost Just Once After the Crash
It wasn’t exactly clear what’s gotten into the Wolverines since the plane crash, but was quite the storybook ride ever since it happened.
After beating the Illini handily, Michigan upset Big Ten regular season champion Purdue 74-70 in a second round game and advancing to play in a semifinal against Minnesota.
In the game, Michigan took control and didn’t let up, defeating the Golden Gophers 84-77 to move onto the Big Ten Tournament championship against Wisconsin. And they still couldn’t be stopped.
The Wolverines ran the table in the tournament and beat Wisconsin, 71-56, to win the tournament’s championship. An hour after the completion of the game, Michigan found out that it’s improved its resume so much that it received a No. 7 seed in the 2017 NCAA Tournament, and it continued to be a terror for opposing teams.
Michigan narrowly defeated No. 10 Oklahoma State in a Round of 64 game, 92-91, and followed it up with a massive upset of No. 2-seeded Louisville, 73-69, in the Midwest regional semifinal.
But the team’s crazy March ended March 23 with a 69-68 loss at the hands of Oregon in the Sweet 16.