UPDATE 3/10/11 @ 6 p.m.
Forty minutes of terror. That's how one Marshall University Football Coach described a flight he says he'll never forget.
With the exception of Head Coach Doc Holliday, Marshall's entire coaching staff was on a plane heading home when a mechanical error threatened disaster. It was a tense situation that the coaches are reflecting on today.
It's back to business as usual for Marshall University's offensive line and tight end Coach Phil Ratliff. On this day, he's giving recruits a tour of the campus. But, less than 24 hours ago, he was on this plane with the rest of the assistant coaches receiving some bad news.
“I said something is wrong. I knew something was wrong with this plane. Then, you hear the beep for the flight attendant and she kind of puts her hand over her face and gets up and walks and talks to the exit row. So, at that point, we knew something was wrong,” said Coach Ratliff.
“And we're like looking around and the pilot comes on and says we're going to manually try to put the front landing gear down and we'll divert to Lexington, KY,” said Coach Mike Cassity, an Assistant Football Coach.
“They said Lexington was a larger airport and that the wind would help us if we actually had to make an emergency landing,” said Coach Ratliff.
That flight from Charleston to Lexington took about 40 minutes--39 to be exact. more than enough time to reflect.
“To be honest, you think about your family the entire time...do I have enough life insurance. Forty minutes, it was terror the entire time, for me it was. It was scary,” said Coach Ratliff.
So much so that he sent an alarming text message to his wife.
“Problems with the plane. The landing gear won't go down. I just want you and the kids and my mom and dad--just wanted them to know I love them if something happened,” said Coach Ratliff.
“When you're presented with going to a longer runway, you start reflecting on all the things you've done in life and all the things you want to do in life. It brings things back into perspective,” said Coach Cassity.
Forty years ago, another plane carrying Marshall University football coaches, players and supporters encountered a different set of problems ending in a crash that killed everyone on board. Coach Tony Peterson is a former Marshall Player and second time coach at the school. He admits thoughts of that tragedy did creep to mind.
“Yeah, a little bit. With the history and we're all on that plane and you can't land and they start talking about landing gear--a little bit.. All and you realize all nine coaches are here,” said Coach Peterson.
But, just as the plane was preparing for an emergency landing--good news.
“We were about to touch down and the pilot came on and said the wheel is down so there was a sigh of relief,” said Coach Cassity.
“No worries! Anything that bothered me before doesn't bother me anymore. It's a new perspective about how important family and friends and life is. Very different,” said Coach Ratliff.
UPDATE 3/9/11 @ 11:10 p.m.
LEXINGTON, Ky. (WSAZ) -- The plane had been carrying 38 people, including the flight crew.
The MU coaches were on their way back from trips to Mississippi State and Texas Christian University.
It was the plane's nose landing gear that failed to lower until the aircraft's final approach to Bluegrass International Airport.
Sources tell WSAZ.com sports director Keith Morehouse that the flight originally was planned to land in Charleston, W.Va., but the landing gear would not come down. It was diverted to Lexington because Bluegrass has a longer runway.
The landing gear lowered just before the plane landed.
Morehouse is closely following this story, and we will have more information. Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest.
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