Today marks the 44th anniversary of the 1970 plane crash that took the lives of 36 players on the Marshall University football team. WCHS reports that a noon ceremony on the Marshall campus in Huntington, West Virginia, honored the team members, coaches, and others who lost their lives in the crash of Southern Airways flight 932 on November 14, 1970. A total of 75 people died in the crash. Even now, almost half a century later, this plane crash remains one of the worst sports tragedies in American history.
The ill fated flight left Kinston, North Carolina, at 6:38 p.m., carrying most of the Marshall football team, coaches, and fans. The plane was headed for Huntington airport. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued a report describing the events that led up to the crash.
“The flight, chartered to transport the Marshall University football team and boosters from Kinston, North Carolina, to Huntington, West Virginia, was attempting a nonprecision instrument landing approach to Runway 11 at the time of the accident. The crash occurred following impact with trees on a hill approximately 1 mile west of the runway threshold. The elevation of the broken trees at the initial impact site was approximately 922 feet m.s.l. (mean sea level)”
The cause of the crash was determined to be that the pilot allowed the plane to become too low on its final approach course. Observers on the ground reported that the plane appeared to be too low, but otherwise seemed normal. According to the NTSB, the pilot allowed the plane to descend lower than the “minimum descent altitude” for the approach. The reported weather at the time said that the ceiling was 1,100 feet above sea level (272 feet above ground at the airport). The instrument approach called for the pilot to break off the approach if the runway was not in sight by the time the plane had descended to 1,240 feet (412 feet above the ground). By descending lower than the minimum altitude, the pilot was in danger of colliding with obstacles or terrain, which is what happened.
Marshall’s annual ceremony to honor the victims of the plane crash is held at a memorial fountain in the middle of campus. Each year, a speaker who has a connection to the crash addresses the crowd. This year’s speaker was Tom Shoebridge. Shoebridge was 17 when his brother Ted, Marshall’s quarterback, was killed in the crash. After the speaker finishes his remarks, the fountain is turned off.
This Saturday, the current Marshall football team will honor the memory of those who died in the plane crash by wearing helmets with the number 75 on one side, as the team faces off against Rice.