Marshall University Plane Crash

Huntington Herald Advertiser
November 15, 1970

Marshall Team, Coaches, Fans Die In Plane Crash

75 Believed Aboard Plane; Airline Silent

A chartered jet airliner carrying the Marshall University football team, coaches and a number of prominent Huntington residents crashed in flames on its approach to Tri-State Airport Saturday evening.

There were no survivors.

Southern Airways of Atlanta, Ga., said its two-engine DC-9 was carrying 70 passengers and five crewmen.

The plane was returning the Marshall football players, most of the coaching staff and a group of supporters from Greenville, N. C., where East Carolina University defeated the Marshall team Saturday afternoon.

The crash occurred about 7:45 p. m. less than a mile west of Tri-State Airport. Weather conditions were poor and light rain was falling.

The Herald-Advertiser's Jack Hardin, the first reporter at the scene some 250 yards east of W. Va. 75 south of Kenova, said:

"There's nothing here but charred bodies. It's terrible."

Bodies and wreckage were scattered over a wide area.

Gov. Arch A. Moore Jr. and Dr. Donald N. Dedmon, Marshall's acting president, rushed to the scene.

Hardin reported a piece of the plane was found on a hillside about a half-mile from the principal crash site. He said sections of bodies also were reported found there, too. Searchers were combing the hillside early this morning with the aid of flares.

At 12:10 a. m., the first bodies were placed on National Guard trucks. They were being taken to the National Guard Armory at the airport, where a temporary morgue was established. Hardin said recovery crews were running short of bags to hold the bodies.

Southern Airways at Atlanta said it did not have a passenger list, and refused to identify the crewmen pending notification of next of kin.

The tragedy was "the worst domestic air crash this year," a Federal Aviation Agency spokesman in Washington said, and it was described as one of the worst in history involving an athletic team.

The crash also was the worst in West Virginia air travel history.

Charles Dodrill, president of Tri-State Airport Authority, said if the plane were in its normal approach pattern coming into the airport, it would have had its nose slightly up, traveling at a speed of about 160 miles an hour at the point where it crashed.

A nearby resident, Mrs. Larry Bailey of 1926 Coal Branch Road, told Hardin she saw the jet coming down. She said she heard an explosion and "the plane seemed to come down flat."

The Herald-Advertiser's David A. Peyton reported by radio-telephone that he had walked completely around the scene and "everything is charred beyond belief."

Peyton said it appeared an area about 200 feet in diameter had been leveled and small fires were still burning. He said only the plane's two jet engines and a section of wing were recognizable. "Wreckage is scattered all over the place. People who were here when it happened said they heard one big 'thud' and that was all."

The heat from the wreckage was hampering recovery efforts. The scene was described as chaotic. Great numbers of people swarmed through thick underbrush to reach the scene during the first two hours. State police were clearing everybody, including newsmen, from the area by 10 p. m.

A Tri-State Airport employe returning from the scene said, "Bodies are stacked in a big heap, all of them charred. There can't be anyone alive."

Police said every ambulance within a 10-mile radius was alerted. Cabell-Huntington Hospital asked visitors to leave, and sealed off its entrances in gearing for the emergency, but it soon became apparent there would be no survivors.

Hardin and Peyton described the scene as horrifying. "There are charred pieces of bodies all over the place," Hardin said. Peyton said he had counted 12 forms that were recognizable as bodies, but that he saw pieces of bodies, bones and limbs scattered throughout the area.

Many of the bodies had been covered with white plastic by firemen and other emergency authorities at the scene.

Gov. Moore arrived at the scene shortly after 10 p. m.

A ten-man investigative team from the National Transportation Safety Board was dispatched from Washington late Saturday night, according to board chairman John H. Reed.

Less than two months ago, on Oct. 3, one of two chartered planes carrying the Wichita University football team, coaches, boosters and others, crashed in the mountains of Colorado, killing 31 persons, including 13 football players.

Traffic was being turned away from the airport at the foot of the road leading up the hill to the terminal.

Southern Airways released a statement at 10:20 p. m. indicating [t]here were 70 passengers aboard. Southern said it was the first crash in its 21 years of operation.

Fifteen bodies were found near a section of the fuselage - the biggest section of the craft left intact.

The spectacular crash occurred about one and one-fourth miles east of the Kenova exit of Interstate-64 and large numbers of people were drawn to the scene.

Rev. Homer Pelfrey, a former Wayne County sheriff, said he and Floyd Nichols, a resident of the area, were in their homes when they heard the explosion and were the first to arrive on the scene. Mr. Pelfrey said he found a billfold belonging to one of the Marshall players.

State police said the wreckage was still too hot to permit full recovery operation.

An emergency center was established in the office of John Callebs, Marshall director of development, and a group of local ministers had been assembled to notify relatives of victims as soon as positive identification was made.

Gov. Moore spoke with members of families of the victims who had gathered at the airport. He advised them no to go to the temporary morgue because of "the condition of the bodies." The governor then went to the morgue himself.

Marshall officials said the school's cheerleaders were not aboard the plane.

Marshall students were helping to set up temporary quarters for relatives of the victims at Gullickson Hall - the Marshall physical education building. Students were carrying mattresses, pillows and sheets and blankets to the building. Area restaurants were supplying food and coffee.

John Young, who lives about a half-mile from the crash site, said he "heard this loud noise...I ran out to see what it was and all I saw was a big ball of fire. Nobody could have survived that."

Albert Rich, whose house also is about a half mile from the scene, said he first thought the loud noise was lightning. He went out to see.

"I heard this one bang and a minute later there was this terrific bang which shook the whole house. I ran outside to see if there was a storm, and I saw this flash over the hill," Rich said.

He said the plane skimmed the top of an abandoned house just before it crashed.

A light rain hampered rescue efforts, where the site was accessible only by a narrow, dirt road which had turned mostly into mud.

It was the second fatal crash at the airport in 16 days. Three Army officers were killed in the crash of a military plane Oct. 29. A fourth passenger, critically injured, survived.

In the earlier crash, the airplane hit a hill 2,700 feet short of the runway, after apparently losing power in one of its two engines.

Military authorities still are investigating the incident.

Approximately 175-200 National Guardsmen were at the airport awaiting instructions. The bulk of the troops, from the 19th Special Forces, returned from field exercises in the Martha area.

Also there were elements of the 254th Transportation Co., which was at the armory when the alert was sounded; the 146th Medical detachment, a helicopter ambulance group, and a detail from Fort Bragg, N. C., who was conducting the weekend maneuvers for the Special Forces at Martha.

Huntington Mayor Robert Hinerman declared a period of mourning, until further notice, and requested that all flags over city buildings be flown at half-staff. He asked the public to do the same.

Accompanying him were City Manager Edward Ewing and Gary Bunn, planning director.

City Manager Edward A. Ewing, Mayor Robert Hinerman, and Councilman Owen Duncan, arrived at the airport about 11:30 p. m.

Councilman Duncan said he almost went on the trip. The plane left the airport at about 7:30 p. m. Friday.

He said he was just returning from a business trip in Green Bay, Wis., and was leaving the airport when City Councilman Murill Ralsten invited him to go along. Ralsten explained to him the $50 ticket would buy a round trip, one meal, lodging and entrance to the football game.

"I came within a hair of going," Duncan said, adding his sympathies to the families.

A Southern Airways DC-9, apparently exactly like the one which crashed, arrived at Tri-State at 11:50 p. m., carrying a team of investigators for the airline. There were six people aboard the big plane and all made an obvious effort to avoid newsmen. The plane landed from the east, the opposite direction from the attempted landing of the ill-fated Marshall charter plane.

Piedmont Flight 919, the first airplane to land at the airport since the accident, arrived approximately on schedule shortly after midnight.

Stan Champer, one of the passengers on the plane and city editor of the Ashland Daily independent, said he was originally on a flight from Chicago which was due to land in Huntington at 8:30 p. m.

The passengers were told they would be flying to Roanoke instead of Huntington, Mr. Champer said. At Roanoke the passengers were taken off the Piedmont jet and placed on a Piedmont prop jet for the flight which stopped at Greenbrier Airport, Beckley Airport and Charleston's Kanawha Airport. They arrived four hours late.

Mr. Champer said they were never officially told of the disaster near Huntington. "We though we were flying over because of bad weather," Mr. Champer said, "but while we were in Roanoke word of the tragedy spread among the passengers quickly."

Mr. Champer was returning from the National Convention of Sigma Delta Chi held last week in Chicago.

Gov. Moore announced early this morning a concurrent investigation would be conducted by state and federal authorities. Airport manager A. O. Cappadony said at 1 a. m. that FAA investigators were expected to arrive in about 45 minutes. Peyton reported that four ambulances had gone to the temporary morgue by 1 a. m.

Cabell County Sheriff Joe Neal, returning to the airport from an inspection of the temporary morgue at the armory, said it was his understanding some bodies were thrown clear of the wreckage and they were identifiable by sight.

He said the National Guard had spread sheets on the floor in preparation for the bodies which he said would probably be brought in in plastic bags. He also said he understood that a cooling unit from the Logan Packing Co. would be brought in to preserve the bodies.

Capt. J. D. Baisden, Company B State Police commander at South Charleston, said no newsmen would be allowed at the temporary morgue until positive identification was made.

Relatives or friends who might give identifications were being allowed within the morgue.

Operations at the airport remained normal and there was to be no interruption of regular flights, officials said.

List of Players Believed Aboard

The following football players at Marshall University were believed to be on the plane that crashed at Tri-State Airport last night:

Jim Adams, senior, Mansfield, O., guard; Mark Andrews, junior, Cincinnati, O., offensive guard; Mike Blake, sophomore, Huntington, linebacker; Dennis Blevins, junior, Bluefield, wide receiver; Larry Brown, senior, Atlanta, Ga., defensive guard; Tom Brown, senior, Richmond, Va., defensive guard; Stuart Cottrell, sophomore, Eustis, Fla., defensive back; Rick Dardinger, senior, Mt. Vernon, O., center; David DeBord, senior, Quincy, Fla., offensive tackle; Kevin Gilmore, senior, Harrison, N. J., halfback; Dave Griffith, senior, Clarksville, Va., defensive end; Art Harris, sophomore, Passaic, N. J., halfback; Bob Harris, junior, Cincinnati, O., quarterback; Bobby Joe Hill, sophomore, Dallas, Tex., defensive back; Joe Hood, sophomore, Tuscaloosa, Ala., halfback; Tom Howard, junior, Milton, offensive guard; Marcelo Lajterman, sophomore, Lyndhurst, N. J., kicking specialist; Rich Lech, junior, Columbus, O., defensive back; Pete Naputano, junior, Altoon[a], Pa., defensive end; Pat Norrell, senior, Hartsdale, N. Y., offensive guard; Bob Patterson, junior, Louisburg, N. C., offensive tackle; Scottie Reese, junior, Waco, Tex., def[e]nsive end; Jack Repasy, junior, Cincinnati, O., wide receiver; Larry Sanders, junior, Tuscaloosa, defensive back; Al Saylor, sophomore, Cuyahoga Falls, O., defensive end; Art Shannon, junior, Greensboro, N. C., linebacker; Ted Shoebridge, junior, Lynchurst, N. J., quarterback; Jerry Stainback, senior, Newport News, Va., linebacker; Robert Van Horn, sophomore, Tuscaloosa, Ala., tackle; Freddy Wilson, sophomore, Tuscaloosa, Ala., tackle; John Young, sophomore, Buckhannon, tight end; Tom Zborill, junior, Richmond, Va., defensive end.

25 Fans, Officials On List

Some 25 persons not on the official Marshall University football team travel list were believed to have been among the victims of Saturday night's tragic crash. These reportedly included:

Charles E. Kautz, the MU athletic director.

Michael R. Prestera, 206 Forest Road, a former president of the Big Green Club and a delegate- elect to the West Virginia Legislature.

Dr. Herbert D. (Pete) Proctor and his wife, Courtney, 206 Miller Road.

Dr. Ray R. Hagley and his wife, Shirley, 2980 Staunton Road.

Dr. Joseph E. Chambers and his wife, Peggy, 1781 Woodward Terrace.

E. O. (Happy) Heath and his wife, Elaine, 301 W. 11th Ave.

Dr. Glenn H. Preston and his wife, Phyllis, 116 Woodland Drive.

City Councilman Murrill Ralsten and his wife, Helen, 1510 Washington Blvd.

James R. Jarrell and his wife, Cynthia, 338 Woodland Drive.

Parker L. Ward, 85 Copper Glen Drive.

Charles M. (Red) Arnold and his wife, Rachael, 332 9th Ave.

Ken Jones, 216 Chestnut St., a television sports announcer for WHTN-TV.

Jeff Nathan, sports editor of the MU student newspaper, The Parthenon, and a junior from Parkersburg.

Gene Morehouse, sports information director for Marshall and the play-by-play announcer.

Donald Booth and Norman Whisman, the two volunteers who took movies of the games for Marshall.

Dr. Brian O'Connor, Director of Admissions at Marshall.

Gov. Moore Declares At Scene: 'Tragedy Of Highest Degree'

By Jack Hardin

"A tragedy of the highest degree."

Gov. Arch A. Moore, Jr. stood at the scene and listened as names of non-team members were read to him.

"No...Oh, God. No. This can't be happening. Why do these things have to happen? These people are our friends."

The state's chief executive, after leaving the scene, said it would probably be eight or nine hours before the bodies can be taken, not until daybreak can a thorough search be conducted.

Special identification teams from the State Police at Charleston are en route to the scene, the governor said, and they will conduct investigation processes on the bodies.

"All that have been found are burned beyond recognition," he said. The bodies will be removed to an airport hangar, and National Guard trucks and other emergency vehicles were available to transfer the bodies.

The governor said some reports indicated the plane hit a hillside west of the runway, bounced off and exploded in mid-air before crashing.

Other reports said the plane first exploded, then hit the hillside, bounced into the air, and then crashed.

Harry Hatten, who owns a farm on the other side of the hill, and his family were out in the barnyard at the time of the crash and saw the plane, and remarked, "He's flying too low."

They then saw a flash of fire.

'Sons Of Marshall' They Will Always Be

And, The Green Bus Pulled Away...Empty

By David S. McGuire

The chartered bus, striped prominently with its bright green, stood empty, still and useless.

The night, befittingly, was miserable.

A chilly wind swept first a drizzle, then a steady rain and finally a few drops on the bus, parked in front of the operatings building at Tri-State Airport.

Grimly but efficiently, airport personnel went about their work.

At first there was bewilderment at word of the crash. Then the terrible shock. Finally the incomprehensible grief that overshadows nearly everything when the "Why?" can't be answered.

Authorities called waiting relatives and friends into a room off the terminal lobby and later took families and relatives to the West Virginia Air National Guard Armory where a temporary morgue was set up in the hangar.

Strict security measures were imposed.

All incoming highway traffic was stopped. Those without official business were not allowed to turn off Walker Branch Road onto the airport road. Only law enforcement officers, National Guardsmen, relatives and others having official business were allowed to take the road leading from the terminal building to the Armory.

A coed wearing a white jacket with the green Marshall University lettering on back walked toward the bank of four pay phones which were all busy. She stopped, turned away, retraced her step and stopped against a pole. Red-eyed and weeping, she bit her fingers and waited her turn.

A few Marshall students wearing fraternity jackets hunched in their chairs while cradling their faces. One had tears streaming down his face.

On the walkway between the terminal and the gates, a cluster of people stood talking in hushed tones.

The lower building was a maze of activity, although traffic into the port was cancelled.

One passerby ducked into the ground floor at the tower and flatly said, "Yes, I was over there. Bodies are stacked over there in one big heap, all charred. There can't be anyone alive."

Charles Dodrill, Airport Authority president, was busy in the operations building talking on a telephone. "No, there isn't anything official yet," he commented at 9:35 p.m. "Word of the casualties, of course, will have to come from Southern Airways," he answered.

Moments later, word came that state police said there were no survivors.

Outside, the rain picked up in tempos and the wind felt chillier, much chillier.

And there was the bus, idling after the driver became cold, idling almost like a drum roll in slow motion.

Soon, the driver reappeared and asked if he were free to go. "An Army officer told me to stand by in case there were any survivors. I called the office and they said for me to shuttle survivors to the hospital," he explained.

"Well, in that case, you are free to go," he was told.

Silently, he turned and walked toward the bus.

The almost military cadence of the engine brought to mind the Marshall Fight Song.

There were no Sons of Marshall aboard when the green-striped bus pulled slowly away.

Nevertheless, there were truly Sons of Marshall. Gone, yes, but still Sons of Marshall.

Sobs, Anguish Pierce Cold, Rainy Night At Marshall U.

By Jack Seamonds

It was a rainy, cold night at Marshall University.

The first thing that hit you, that brought the story home, was the cries of those being treated by doctors for shock. Mattresses were lined up on the floor in Gullickson Hall, and students milled around the building in small groups, asking the fearful questions, "Is he, was he" "Were there any survivors...?" "And his wife, too?"

Two students carried a girl, limp and moaning, into the auditorium, where she was treated for shock. Hospital partitions shielded the victims of shock from prying eyes. But they failed to stop the sobs, the anguished cries. On heard the scream, "Alex, come back...Alex, please come back." And the listener was overcome with nausea.

Coeds were passing out coffee to the students, and athletic officials were busy trying to locate those rumored not to have been on the plane. And they were praying.

Names were mentioned...Morehouse...Tolley...and on and on...and always the fear kept coming back...Were they on the plane?

Across campus, a memorial service was underway in the Campus Christian Center. Seven MU ministers and some 400 MU students offered their prayer for the victims of the crash.

The service opened with a mournful, pensive African folk song, "Kumbaya."

"Someone's singing Lord, Kumbaya...Someones hurting Lord, Kumbaya...someone's praying, Lord, Kaumbaya [sic]." The lyrics filtered through the crowd, and no one dared not sing. And still the tears came.

And then the prayers. "They, those who have been so dear to us, have so soon passed by. He is watching us. He is here with us. He is binding us together. And the Lord shall watch over them, as they enter the Kingdom of Heaven." The ominous "Amen" was punctuated by the wailing of a siren on Fifth Ave.

A light, cold rain fell on the students, faculty and staff as they left the chapel. And the tears, the sobs, began anew.

"God, what has happened...what has happened," sobbed a red-eyed coed as she walked slowly back to her dormitory room.


West Virginia Archives and History