STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) — The Mississippi State men's basketball team had to take a bus home to Starkville after an engine failed on the team plane, forcing an emergency landing in St. Louis.
The team left suburban Festus at 8:30 a.m. Sunday and arrived in Starkville at 3:30 p.m., team spokesman Gregg Ellis said. Most of the team slept while the sports staff worked, he said.
They stayed in Festus, about an hour's drive from St. Louis, because Mardi Gras had filled the city's hotels and bad weather kept a backup plane in Lexington, Kentucky.
"Who knew that St. Louis is the second-biggest Mardi Gras city in the United States?" he said Sunday in a phone interview with The Associated Press. "We couldn't find enough rooms, even at the airport."
The mishap occurred after the Bulldogs defeated the Missouri Tigers 77-74 Saturday in Columbia, Missouri.
Ellis said he was sitting in front of the right wing when the right engine failed about 20 minutes into the flight that was supposed to get the team to Starkville at 8:30 p.m. Saturday. Most of the players were asleep, he said.
"Have you ever mowed a lawn using a push mower? Ever run over anything?" Ellis said, comparing the sensations. "There's a suction noise, then a loud noise. ... Then you smell that smell of burning wire."
The plane heeled to the left and went dark, but the pilot quickly righted it and landed without incident, he said. The players woke before the landing and applauded.
Luckily, Ellis said, the university bus driver who had picked up the Bulldogs at the Columbia airport already had planned to spend the night in Festus on his way back to Starkville, making him available Sunday.
Ellis pointed out it was the second close call for the team in less than seven years. During the 2008 Southeastern Conference tournament in Atlanta, the roof of the Georgia Dome was ripped open by a powerful storm toward the end of the Bulldogs' game against Alabama.
"I've now survived a tornado during a game and a blown engine in flight," Ellis tweeted Saturday. "All with MSU basketball. So is that 7 lives left for me?"
Mississippi State improved to 12-13 overall and 5-7 in conference play after its win against Missouri. The Bulldogs' next game is Thursday against rival Mississippi.