Nov'70- Tragedy Strikes College Football


46 years ago this month, the deadliest aviation accident in U.S. sporting history wiped out the entire Marshall University football team.  Thirty seven players and 9 members of the coaching staff were killed on their way back to West Virginia after playing East Carolina University. 

The nightmare was made that much more surreal given that six weeks earlier the lives of 14 players making up the starting lineup of Wichita State were also taken from the skies.  Their aircraft was one of two planes carrying the team to a game against Utah State and unlike the other flight, it would take an unscheduled and fateful path through a valley before crashing into a mountain. 

Both Marshall University and Wichita State reconstituted their teams by enrolling freshmen into their varsity programs, prohibited at the time but officially waived by the NCAA due to circumstance; three years later the NCAA abolished that rule for all schools. 

The dual catastrophies were not the first or last air tragedies involving athlete groups, but their close timing and magnitude of loss was especially profound.  Ten years earlier, the first aviation team accident recorded in America  resulted in the loss of 16 members of the Cal Poly football team.  The school did not play another  road game again east of the Rockies until 1978.  It's also speculated that Cal Poly alumnus and Hall of Fame coach John Madden developed his fear of flying from that tragedy. 

In 1977, it was college basketball that fell victim when 14 members of the University of Evansville basketball team perished; the only player who was not on the flight was killed two weeks later by a drunk driver, effectively eviscerating the entire squad.

Other American sports groups that experienced sky tragedies include the U.S. figure skating team that went down over Belgium in 1961 with 15 members and an amateur boxing squad  that lost 14 young fighters in 1980 on a trip to Poland. 

Surprisingly, given the unforgiving laws of aviation statistics, there have been no plane crashes involving American professional sports teams especially in light of their frequent travels.  Yet from these experiences and a few near misses of their own, the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL have all adopted formal, legal and confidential disaster drafts to rebuild their rosters in case  the unthinkable should happen.


No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment

Shop For Our Books & DVD's


View larger Puzzle archive


10 years ago

BOXING  September 26, 2009  Vitaly Klitschko defeats Chris Arreola in the 10th round after the latter calls it quits. It was the 40th professional bout for the Ukrainian fighter who retained his WBC heavyweight title. Klitschko retired in 2012 with a record of 47-45-2, including 41 knockouts. Two years later, he was elected Mayor of Kiev, a position he still holds.

20 years ago

GOLF  September 26, 1999  Americans defeat the Europeans at the 33rd Ryder Cup, which was held in Brookline, Massachusetts. Winning by a narrow margin of 14½ to 13½, the Americans were trailing 10-6 before rallying in the final day to claim the tournament. Rude behavior by spectators on the course was heavily criticized by all media outlets.

30 years ago

TENNIS  September 16, 1989  Six days after losing the US Open final to Boris Becker, Czech tennis player Ivan Lendl marries Samantha Frankel; they would have five daughters together. Lendl turned pro in 1978 and held the #1 world ranking for 270 weeks in the 1980s. A baseline power hitter, he won eight grand slams during his prolific career.

40 years ago

BASEBALL  September 24, 1979  In his first year with the Philadelphia Phillies, Pete Rose reaches 200 hits a season for the 10th time; he was previously with the Cincinnati Reds from 1963-78. A 2x World Series champ, Rose won his 3rd Fall Classic with the Phillies. The Ohio native retired in 1986 as a player and remains MLB’s all-time leader in hits (4,256).