Firebird youth football squad on plane diverted back to Vegas
BULLHEAD CITY — Members of the Bullhead City Firebirds youth football team certainly have a story to tell about their trip to national competition. And at least part of the story won’t have anything to do with football.
Thirty-five members of the team’s travel party — players, coaches and parents — were among 166 passengers and crew members aboard Frontier Airlines’ Flight 260 from Las Vegas to Tampa, Florida, that had to make an emergency return to McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas after part of the covering of an engine tore loose.
The team is scheduled to compete in the American Youth Football National Championships Cadet Division (players 10 and younger) in Kissimmee, Florida. Their travel itinerary began with a morning flight from McCarran to Tampa International Airport.
As the Airbus 320 was taking off around 7:12 a.m. Friday, part of the cowling blew off, leaving a portion of the jet’s right engine exposed.
“The flight took off and a couple of passengers on the right noticed that a flap had come off the engine,” said Joe Yoney, a coach of the Firebirds. “Once they saw that, they quickly let the crew on the airplane know and they told the pilots. The crew of the airplane did a good job in calming the passengers down and the pilots did a great job in landing the plane.”
In a statement, Frontier Airlines said that during takeoff a section of a cowling — the engine cover — came loose and separated from the aircraft.
“Our pilots followed procedure and immediately returned to the airport,’’ airline spokeswoman Allison Redmon said in a statement. “The engine continued to operate normally and the aircraft, an Airbus 320, landed safely. Safety is our top priority at Frontier Airlines and we would like to acknowledge the professionalism of our pilots and flight attendants.”
The emergency landing has changed the plans of the Firebirds.
“We are supposed to be in Florida (Friday) to be able to check in but the important part is that we are all safe,” said Yoney late Friday morning, as arrangements still were being completed. “Right now they are trying to figure out how to get us all there since there are 35 people in our group. What they’ve told me is that they might put us on three different flights in order to get us all there.”
Eventually, four flights were needed to get all of the Firebirds’ travel party to Florida. Two groups — a total of 18 — left Las Vegas early Friday afternoon. Two more groups were booked on flights later in the day.
“We’ll all get there — eventually,” Yoney said.
The traumatic experience prompted some players to reconsider going to the national tournament.
“There are a couple of our players who have decided not to go to Florida with the team,” said Yoney. “So our game plan will change but we are still going to make the trip because these players deserve the opportunity to be there.”
Yoney said there are six players who had not flown before Friday’s trip.
“I hope that this doesn’t scare them for the future,” said Yoney. “In order to calm the players down, I put it in perspective. I told them that this was like if you were driving down the road and your hood came off the car. Your car still works but you have to pull over to address the problem. I also mentioned that the pilots are trained for these types of emergencies and that we would all be safe.”
Joseph Yoney, the quarterback for the Bullhead City Firebirds, was sitting four seats in front of his father, Joe Yoney.
“I’m thankful that the plane was able to land and that we are all safe,” said Joseph Yoney. “When the emergency happened I wasn’t that scared because my dad kept me calm but when the people started to scream, I started to get scared.”
Frontier Airlines said passengers were given a refund of their flight tickets plus a $500 voucher for future travel on Frontier. Frontier also is covering the full cost of re-booking the passengers on other airlines.
Joe Yoney said the team’s first game won’t be until today. A meeting on Saturday was to unveil the brackets and game times.
“Right now, we don’t know who we’re playing or when,” Yoney said.
He said it will be a challenge to get the players’ focus back on football after the travel ordeal. The team takes a 13-1 record into the national tournament.
“Once we get there, obviously ... we’re going to have to sit the kids down and talk about it,” he said. “The experience. Being there to play football. All this is part of their adventure.”
Win or lose, it will be a lasting memory.
“They’ll never forget this trip,” Yoney said. “No matter what happens (in the tournament), they’ll never forget this trip.”
Editor Bill McMillen contributed to this report.