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Michigan Basketball: NTSB - Pilots Saved 100-plus Wolverines Two Years Ago

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Michigan's basketball team survived a plane accident on takeoff two years ago that might have killed them all had it not been for a pilot's quick decision.

Michigan's 2017 Big Ten Tournament championship team survived a plane accident to win the title.
Michigan's 2017 Big Ten Tournament championship team survived a plane accident to win the title.

That was the determination of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which published its report March 7.

The Wolverines were taking off for Washington D.C. to face Illinois in the Big Ten Tournament when their plane came to a screeching halt, skidded off the runway and through a fence. The NTSB determined that a jammed elevator prevented the pilot from being able to lift the nose of the plane.

"The NTSB determines that the probable cause of this accident was the jammed condition of the airplane’s right elevator, which resulted from exposure to localized, dynamic wind while the airplane was parked and rendered the airplane unable to rotate during takeoff," they wrote in their report. "Contributing to the accident were (1) the effect of a large structure on the gusting surface wind at the airplane’s parked location, which led to turbulent gust loads on the right elevator sufficient to jam it, even though the horizontal surface wind speed was below the certification design limit and maintenance inspection criteria for the airplane, and (2) the lack of a means to enable the flight crew to detect a jammed elevator during preflight checks for the Boeing MD-83 airplane.

The plane was traveling at 187 miles per hour when the pilot hit the brakes, breaking protocol. He'd been past the point of no return but felt he couldn't get the plane off the ground.

Winds that day were gusting well over 50 m.p.h.

"Contributing to the survivability of the accident was the captain’s timely and appropriate decision to reject the takeoff, the check airman’s disciplined adherence to standard operating procedures after the captain called for the rejected takeoff, and the dimensionally compliant runway safety area where the overrun occurred," the NTSB wrote.

"During the takeoff roll, the captain, who was the pilot flying, executed the rejected takeoff 12 seconds after the airplane achieved V1 (takeoff decision speed) because he perceived that the airplane did not respond normally when he pulled back on the control column to command rotation. (V1 is defined, in part, as the maximum speed in the takeoff by which a rejected takeoff must be initiated to ensure that a safe stop can be completed within the remaining runway.) The check airman, who was the pilot monitoring (and was providing airplane differences training to the captain), questioned the captain’s decision to reject the takeoff after V1 but adhered to company standard operating procedures and did not attempt to intervene.

"Data from the airplane’s flight data recorder (FDR) showed that the airplane’s right elevator was positioned full trailing edge down (TED) when the flight crew first powered up the airplane on the day of the accident and remained there throughout the accident sequence. An airplane performance study (based, in part, on FDR data) confirmed that the airplane did not respond in pitch when the captain pulled on the control column. Based on the study’s comparison with a previous takeoff, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determined that the airplane’s lack of rotational response to the control column input did not become apparent to the captain in time for him to have stopped the airplane on the runway.

"Before the accident flight, the airplane had been parked on the ramp at YIP for 2 days near a large hangar, and the elevators (which, by design, did not have gust locks) were exposed to high, gusting surface wind conditions. Postaccident examination showed that the right elevator’s geared tab’s inboard actuating crank and links had moved beyond their normal range of travel and became locked overcenter, effectively jamming the right elevator in a full-TED position and rendering the airplane incapable of rotation during takeoff."

The bottom line: the captain, Mark Radloff, broke protocol by aborting takeoff, and his decision ended up saving all 116 lives.


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