Adria Airways Logo Adria Airways

"Champs2017"

Text: Špela Linec Photos: Borut Anderle, Saša Despot

17 September 2017 will live forever in Slovenian history as the day this small sub-Alpine nation achieved sporting success at the European Basketball Championships by taking the title without losing a match. One day later, Slovenia was gripped by basketball mania. Adria had the honour of bringing Slovenia’s heroes home from its victory in Istanbul, where they were greeted by masses of delirious fans.

That day was shaping up to be like any other for pilot Borut Anderle, who has worked for Adria since 2004 as a pilot and now as a CRJ aircraft instructor – until he got an important call early in the morning telling him to go to Istanbul and bring the new champions home. We spoke to him about how a normal working day suddenly changed into an unforgettable experience.

It’s a special day when your call sign gets changed midway through the flight.

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Give us a few words about how your day unfolded.
I was on call that day. When I’m at home, I have to take the dog out for a walk first, then I always have coffee at our neighbour’s local bar.
Suddenly, as I was chatting to my friends, the telephone rang. It was the operations centre telling me to go to Istanbul to collect our basketball team, check-in 10.45.

How did the flight preparations go? Were they different in any way because you were going to collect the European champions?
The flight preparations weren’t anything out of the ordinary: an empty outbound flight, good weather forecast on the route, sunny weather in Istanbul.
We landed in Istanbul around 3 o’clock local time and during turnaround time we prepared the aircraft for the return flight, stuck a Slovenian flag on the fuselage, and spent the rest of the time looking at the clock and waiting somewhat impatiently for the bus carrying the champions to arrive at the aircraft. At around 5 o’clock we finally spied the bus driving towards us. It stopped at the aircraft and the team emerged carrying a flag. The feeling of pride was unimaginable. There were congratulations, handshakes, photographs. You could feel the players’ enthusiasm too. After the euphoria came all the pre-flight procedures that have to be followed to ready the plane for take-off.

What was the atmosphere like on the plane? Were lads happy, did they sleep, have any special requests?
While we were at cruising altitude, there was obviously time for the players and other members of the team to visit the cockpit. Of course, that was a chance to get some historic photographic mementos ☺ and a few autographs.
The atmosphere during the flight was a happy one. They played music, celebrated (some more than others), some of them even fell asleep.

What was the flight like? How did you feel having “so much gold on board”?
When we began to descend and were already in Croatian airspace, the air-traffic controller called us and told us, in Croatian, that he had received a request from Slovenian air-traffic control to change our call sign from ADR 259 to “Champs2017”. Me and the first officer were immediately in favour of this, as neither of us had ever flown with a call sign like that before.
As we approached Slovenian airspace, our Croatian controller handed over to his Slovenian counterpart, who greeted us with the words “Champs2017, best wishes and welcome” and gave us instructions and permission to fly towards Brnik. The feeling was incredible. That kind of thing really doesn’t happen every day. As we were approaching the airport, congratulations and best wishes were coming in from the control staff in the tower. I was also surprised to hear my wife’s voice☺ The controller asked us a very interesting question: would we be able to land with so much gold on board?☺
The landing was like thousands of others, but you still felt a special sense of responsibility, of pride – particularly when the controller told us that some pretty amazing scenes were awaiting us on the apron. And there were. When we landed, we could already see the fire engine lights in the distance. We were then guided to the airport building as the fire engine sent arcs of water over the plane. These were crazy scenes. I mean, everyone remotely connected with work at the airport was stood on the tarmac. Crowds of fans were chanting, waiting for the aircraft doors to be opened. As soon as the players were ready, we opened the doors and the euphoria began.

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You had already flown Goran Dragič to Bulgaria in 2016. What was it like seeing him again after the team’s success?
Yes, I took Goran and the team last year from Belgrade to Sofia for a European Championship qualifying match. The first officer who was with me at the time wanted Goran to visit the cockpit. Goran was only too happy to oblige because he’d never had the opportunity to see the cockpit before, even though his NBA club has its own aircraft.

Goran also came to the cockpit during the flight from Istanbul, and when I showed him his autograph in my flight logbook, he immediately remembered the flight to Sofia. Then he took the book and added another autograph and the words “European champions 2017”. This book will certainly have some historical value ☺

Did you get an autograph or any other memento from any of the other players?
I asked Goran if I could get the team’s autographs, so he took a piece of paper and went around the aircraft himself collecting autographs from his teammates. He brought back autographs from all 12 players. A week or two later, every member of the crew received a European Championship strip from the Slovenian Basketball Association.

What was the first thing you did when you got home?
We toasted the events of the day and the team’s historic victory.

Are you a sports fan yourself? Did you watch the championships? What sports do you like watching?
I follow sport when the Slovenian national team are playing. I also followed this championship, particularly from the Round of 16 on, because they were still undefeated and it was all becoming increasingly promising. Otherwise, I’m more of a winter sports fan – Alpine skiing, ski jumping, ice hockey.

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Flight details:

ADR 259 (or “Champs2017”)

Istanbul (IST) – Ljubljana (LJU)

18 September 2017

Aircraft: CRJ 700 Reg: S5-AAY

Block off: 17:46 LT

Block on: 19:00 LT

Total time: 2:14

Crew:

  • Captain: Borut Anderle
  • First officer: Damijan Obreza
  • CCM1: Natja Velepec
  • CCM2: Maja Estera Trnjanac

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