Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club
Park City, UT
CURATOR’S NOTE- FROM THE ARCHIVES- DECEMBER 30, 2014… a story from former USANS ski jumper, and coach, Clint Jones.
Over the last 17 years, I have spent more than my fair share of time on planes. It goes without saying that I have seen some bad weather, delays, angry passengers, and even bomb threats. The craziest situation that I can remember from all of those years of traveling was probably in December of 2013, when we were traveling to Sochi for the pre-Olympic test event.
At the time, the team for the trip consisted of Anders Johnson, Peter Frenette, and yours truly as the coach… All of whom were rookies to Russia. There had been stories circulating around the ski jumping community that it was not that great of an idea to travel through Moscow because the airport staff was notorious for loosing skis. To solve this problem, FIS took it upon themselves to book a charter flight for all of the World Cup athletes and staff to avoid any issues during travel. Little did they know, Mother Nature had other plans…
When we woke up in Zurich the morning of our direct flight to Sochi, it was a complete blizzard. We arrived at the airport without any issues, and then began to follow our less than clear directions to drop off all of our luggage at an unfortunately well-hidden location outside the airport. After dragging our bags around in the snow, we finally got them checked in and made our way to the gate. We arrived at the plane, and quickly boarded to a very interesting scene. The back 10 rows were without seats. In their place, the ski and wax equipment for all the teams were stacked high. The rest of the plane was full of the who’s who of both men’s and women’s ski jumping. After a pre-flight briefing, all in Russian, the Baltic Holliday 737 pushed back from the gate.
The normal procedure with four inches of snow on the wings is to proceed directly to the de-icing area. However, after taxiing for a few minutes, we made a left turn on to the runway. I was a little confused when the pilot pushed the throttle all the forward, and we started speeding down the runway. I am still not positive if it was only to try and get rid of the extra snow on the wings, but we continued on the ground almost the entire length of the runway, gaining speed the whole way. I don’t know how fast we were going, but I have never been so fast on the ground. Just before the end of the runway, we finally took off without a problem, even with the extra snow still on the wings. The next few hours of the flight were completely normal, except for the 120 or so top level ski jumpers mingling around.
As we reached the eastern side of the Black Sea, things started to get interesting. It was almost completely dark out, but you could just make out some storm clouds ahead. Another 30 minutes later, the air became turbulent. This was just in time for our final approach into Sochi. The pilot came over the intercom and said something in Russian. I jokingly looked over at Anders and translated, “Prepare for our crash landing in Sochi!” Almost immediately, I saw a bright white flash, and an immediate bang. The lights flickered and the plane shook. My first thought was that one of the engines had exploded. After a few seconds, the lights were back on and the plane seemed to be cruising along without any problems. Everyone on the plane was looking at each other and trying to figure out what had happened. After 30 seconds, there was another white flash and a bang. At this point, everyone was quite startled, especially because of the lack of information coming from the flight crew. There seemed to be no problems with the plane, and at that point, we realized that the plane had just been struck by lightning. Finally, the pilot came over the intercom and said in a totally unfazed voice, “Please Prepare for landing In Sochi.” The flaps went down, and the pilot guided us in for a nice, smooth touch down.
Clint Jones is a two-time Olympian and one of the USA’s best-ever ski jumpers. On the other side of the walkie talkie he has evolved into one of the most respected coaches on the World Cup tour. USASJ is very fortunate to have him as the top team’s head coach.
To see Clint’s FIS bio, click here
To see Clint jump over 175m at Planica (with a telemark!), click here