The Washington Bullets, who were in Utah to play the Jazz last night, already figured they had scored a major victory after surviving a forced landing at Denver's Stapleton Airport on Sunday afternoon.
The Bullets had completed the first part of their journey from Baltimore-Washington International Airport, making a stop in Denver. But 16 minutes after leaving for Salt Lake City aboard a United Airlines 737, the right engine blew, and emergency landing procedures were initiated by the pilot.
"Everyone heard the engine blow," said Bullets forward Mark Alarie. "It made four distinct popping sounds. We looked at the stewardess and saw how frightened she was. Everyone really got scared, but we tried to stay positive, thinking one engine could carry us down."
Alarie said the plane made a wide turn and began heading back toward Denver while all the passengers assumed crash positions.
"They had ordered fire trucks to prepare for our landing," he said. "I was sure something bad was going to happen."
But the plane, which also carried the University of Utah basketball team, touched down without incident.
Although United agents assured them that the engine had been repaired, the Bullets chose to switch planes, taking a Delta Air Lines flight to Salt Lake City.
"That makes you realize how important your life is," said team captain Darrell Walker. "You start thinking about all your family and friends, and basketball becomes more trivial. I know I said a lot of silent prayers before we landed."
Walker, who was seated in the first-class section, was asked if he might have felt safer sitting in the rear of the cabin.
"I didn't care where I was sitting," he said. "I just wanted to be on the ground. Period."
After tonight's game with the Jazz, the Bullets travel to Oakland, Calif., to play the Golden State Warriors, then visit Sacramento, Calif., Los Angeles and Denver before returning home to play the Houston Rockets on Dec. 14.
Rookie guard Larry Robinson, who is on the injured list, accompanied the team. If he is reactivated, the Bullets will have to make a roster move. The Bullets reportedly are seeking to trade second-year guard Byron Irvin, obtained from Sacramento on Oct. 30 for Steve Colter.