USC's football team, coaches and staff endured several terrifying minutes as their chartered flight to South Bend plummeted amid a severe thunderstorm, forcing the pilot to abort his first landing attempt.
About 125 people, including 82 players, coach Pete Carroll and most of the coaching staff faced a harrowing end to their trip across the country for Saturday's game.
"There was a moment there when I was thinking, 'This is it," Dennis Slutak, USC's director of football operations, told the Los Angeles Times.
USC sports information director Tim Tessalone told The Associated Press Friday that some passengers were thrown from their seats by turbulence as lightning cracked around the storm-tossed aircraft about 9 p.m. Thursday.
"It was a little bit of a roller coaster drop there for a minute," he said. "We had some people fly out of some seats.
Everybody is fine, but it was a frightening little dip there."
The pilot aborted the approach and circled around the storm before landing without incident about 20 minutes later to the relief of the shaken team and the spouses of some staff members also on the flight, Tessalone said.
Safety Taylor Mays said he 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," 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."