The flight attendants told Dave MacWilliams to assume crash position, but that didn't stop him from peeking. He couldn't help himself. "The stewardesses were screaming, "Brace yourself, brace yourself,' but I looked up, out my window," said the former Tampa Bay Rowdie. "I wanted to see what happened. I saw all the fire engines and rescue trucks on the runway and you knew they expected us to crash."
MacWilliams said that despite losing hydraulic fluid, which controls the landing gear and flaps, the jet carrying the Penn-Jersey soccer team, MacWilliams and 141 other passengers safely made an emergency landing at Denver's Stapleton Airport early Sunday morning.
The Penn-Jersey Spirit is staying home this weekend, playing host to the Tampa Bay Rowdies tonight. The game is critical for both the Rowdies (1-4), who have lost three straight games, and the Spirit (3-4).
Neither team is scoring many goals (four for Tampa Bay; seven for Penn-Jersey). Both are committing too many defensive errors. And the clock is running. The American Professional Soccer League season is one-third completed for Penn-Jersey; a quarter of it is over for Tampa Bay.
But MacWilliams won't use that old coaching cliche that talks about life or death situations. Not after the scheduled red-eye non-stop from San Francisco to Newark, N.J., had to make an unscheduled stop.
"That put soccer in perspective," MacWilliams said.
The Spirit had played three games in four days, losing twice, and was looking forward to playing another day. But about 90 minutes into the flight, a problem developed.
Some passengers began to practice grabbing their ankles and putting their heads between their legs. Others removed sharp objects from their pockets. Others read the emergency pamphlets. Children were escorted to the seats closest to the exits.
"I didn't really get scared until I saw how pale, ghostly looking the flight attendants looked," said Spirit forward Dan Donigan.
"Some people had pictures of their wives and family out," MacWilliams said. "They were shaking. Some were throwing up. All you could do was hope for the best, but you can't help but wonder, are we going to blow up. It was an intense time."