MICHIGAN CITY, Ind. -- USC players, coaches and supporters aboard the team’s charter flight from Los Angeles endured a harrowing arrival in South Bend, Ind., on Thursday night.
Several players, administrative staff and coaches’ spouses said passengers were hurled out of their seats and hit their heads on the ceiling when the plane dropped while making an approach through a lightning storm. The pilot aborted the approach and circled before landing without incident, said Dennis Slutak, USC’s director of football operations.
Some of the passengers were not wearing seat belts at the time, but others said their seat belts broke.
“There was a moment there when I was thinking, ‘This is it,’ ” Slutak said.
Said sophomore safety Taylor Mays: “I was screaming.”
At their hotel, senior defensive end Lawrence Jackson said he was going to see the team trainer because a popsicle stick had pierced the inside of his mouth during the drop.
“That was terrifying,” freshman fullback Stanley Havili said. “I thought I was going to die.”
Quarterback John David Booty said, “It wasn’t the worst flight I’ve ever been on, but it was definitely the biggest drop.”
Although Mark Sanchez worked exclusively with USC’s first-team offense and Booty was limited in practice Thursday, Coach Pete Carroll said Booty might still start against Notre Dame on Saturday.
Booty “has the whole range of the game plan,” Carroll said. “We don’t have any hesitation that he can throw the stuff. We just want to get him as right as possible.”
The middle finger on Booty’s right (throwing) hand was broken during the Trojans’ loss to Stanford on Oct. 6, and Carroll cautioned that the senior still has that injury.
Booty, who has been wearing a glove on his passing hand, took a few direct snaps and handed the ball off for a couple of running plays.
“These guys are both ready to play,” Carroll said. “We are just taking in information and making sure that we know what we are doing before we make a decision.”
Several injured players made the trip with the team to South Bend and are available to play, Carroll said.
But that doesn’t mean they will.
Offensive linemen Chilo Rachal and Sam Baker will suit up, though neither went through team drills Thursday. Defensive backs Terrell Thomas and Shareece Wright, linebackers Brian Cushing and Rey Maualuga and running back Stafon Johnson may also play. “We’re not going to give any of these guys who have been off, full-time duty, because we don’t have to,” Carroll said.
Fifth-year senior defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis, on playing Notre Dame: “As far as history goes, the rivalry has gone back and forth. I’ve been fortunate to play on teams to go to Notre Dame and win the last two times and I’m ready to go get one more.”
Lonnie White contributed to this report from Los Angeles.