Air Crash In Rockies Kills Wichita State Football Players
By Patrick Mondout
October 2, 2005
On Friday, October 2, 1970, a twin-engine Martin 404 carrying Wichita
State football players, staff and fans to a game in Utah struck treetops
and crashed near Loveland Pass in Colorado resulting in the deaths of 31
of 40 aboard (list of
This is yet another aviation accident which never should have happened.
Wichita State signed a contract more than two months earlier calling for a
larger and more powerful DC-6 to be used and the flight plan did not call
for the aircraft to be anywhere near Loveland Pass on that day. So what
Our story takes us back to the spring of 1970. Bert Katzenmeyer, the
Wichita State Athletic Director, asked for bids from a few major airlines
for flying his football team to and from road games. Not satisfied with
the rates they quoted him, he found a "charter" carrier called
Golden Aviation that was able to meet his budget.
The top of the memorial
located just off Interstate 70 near the crash site
reads, "As time passes, memories fade, but we
will never forget." You can read more about
the memorial and see a complete passenger list here.
Picture by Patrick Mondout
On July 21, 1970, Golden Aviation signed a contract with Katzenmeyer to
supply a five person crew for a Douglas
DC-6, which was to be used to fly the team to its road games (including
the October 3rd game in Utah). Golden Aviation had already made a separate
arrangement with the Jack Richards Aircraft Company for use of their DC-6.
These agreements were written in such a way as to not legally make either
Richards or Golden the legal "operator" of the flight.
Unfortunately for all concerned, the DC-6 suffered damage in a wind
storm and was not repaired in time to be used in early October. Jack
Richards had purchased 14 smaller Martin 404's from Fairchild Hiller in
1968, but they had not been flown since 1967 (by Ozark
Air Lines). Nevertheless, a pair of Martin aircraft were brought out
of storage in Las Vegas in early September, recertified for flying, and
flown to Wichita the morning of October 2nd. Both of the 404s would be
needed to carry the nearly 80 passengers the DC-6 was originally scheduled
to carry. The temporary FAA license to fly them was good for 10 days only
and had expired by the day of the fateful flight.
Wichita State President Carl Ahlberg later testified, "Well, since
the accident occurred, I have talked with Mrs. Harmon and other people who
made trips, and discovered that there was a good deal of displeasure on
the part of Mr. Katzenmeyer and Mr. Farmer that a DC-6 which they thought
they had contracted for was not available, and that the team had to travel
in two planes rather than one."
"Black" and "Gold"
Although the aircraft were painted red and white, the team referred to
the two aircraft as the "gold" plane, which contained the
starting players, coaches, and boosters, and the "black" plane,
which carried the backups and other personnel. Black and gold were Wichita
The gold plane also contained Kansas state legislator Ray King and his
wife as well as banker John Grooms and his wife, who won their tickets as
part of a membership drive for the Shockers' booster club. There was not
room aboard the plane for all who wanted to go, however. Survivor Mike
Bruce's mom once stated her desire to fly with the team and a teammate
reportedly quipped, "We can't let you do that, Mrs. Bruce. If you saw
the airplanes we fly, you wouldn't let us go."
It was a beautiful, clear fall day with weather not expected to present
at problem for the flights. The crew of the "gold" plane
consisted of Captain Danny Crocker, a 27-year-old mechanic with piloting
credentials, and his boss, First Officer Ronald Skipper, the president of
Golden Aviation. The flight plans for both aircraft were provided by first
officer Ralph Hill, who worked with Captain Leland Everett in the cockpit
of the "black" plane.
The plan called for the aircraft to fly to Denver to refuel and then
fly to Logan via Laramie, Wyoming (see Flight Paths below). This
route provided ample time to get the aircraft at a high enough altitude to
clear the Rocky Mountains and, as captain Everett of the "black"
plane later testified, it provided more "back doors" through
which to escape if there was trouble.
Both aircraft followed the
blue line leading from Wichita to Denver for
refueling. The "black" plane followed
the northern route (shown in blue) through
Laramie, Wyoming to Logan, Utah. The
"gold" plane attempted a scenic route
(red line) through the heart of the Rocky
Mountains and the Continental Divide.
Image ©2005 EarthSat/Google
With 35 passengers and a crew of four on board the gold plane and 36
passengers and a crew of three on board the black plane, the aircraft left
Wichita a little after 9:00 a.m. (times shown are mountain daylight,
consistent with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report).
Starting linebacker Steve Moore had worked near Loveland Pass and knew
how breathtakingly beautiful the area was first hand. Former Wichita State
basketball player Gary Curmode told the New Times in 1998,
"He's the one who asked the pilot, 'Can we go a different route so I
can show the guys where I work?' And the pilot, not being familiar with
it, he looked at the map and said, 'Yeah, we can do it.'"
|Denver, Colorado was awarded
Winter Olympics in May of 1970. Loveland Ski Area was to
hold slalom races while Mt. Sniktau - one of the last sights the
passengers saw on this flight - was to be developed for other
Olympic events. Ultimately the citizens of Denver voted against
raising their taxes to pay for the games and Innsbruck, Austria hosted
them instead. Given that Montreal has only just this month
(October 2005) paid off the bills from the 1976 Summer Games,
perhaps the voters/taxpayers of Denver made a wise decision.
Starting cornerback Randy Kiesau rode the "black" plane to
Denver, but snuck aboard the "gold" plane while it was refueled.
He told his friend Bob Renner, "I've never ridden with the with the
second team before, and I'm not going to start now."
Skipper actually bought the necessary aerial charts at the Denver
airport while the aircraft was refueled but reportedly did not spend time
studying them before the flight. According to testimony given to the NTSB,
he bought the charts 15 minutes before takeoff and spent the remaining
time chatting with passengers rather than reading the charts. This might
not have been a deadly mistake, had he been familiar with the Continental
Divide - which averages ~13,000 feet in the canyon he was about to fly
into - but, according to his own later testimony, he was not.
At just before half past noon, each plane made its way to the runway
for departure. Captain Everett of the "black" plane was aware of
the "gold" plane's new flight plan, but stuck to his original
one and took off from Denver northward to Laramie - a much safer if less
The "gold" plane was a full 5165 pounds overweight at
takeoff. Though the aircraft would be expected to burn a few thousand
pounds of fuel during the flight, the plane would even have been over
2,000 pounds overweight for the landing in Logan, Utah according to NTSB
The overweight plane lumbered down the runway and took a long time to
get airborne. When it was a little over a mile past the end of the runway,
the air traffic controller who cleared the flight noticed that the
aircraft was unusually low and trailing smoke from the right engine. He
called the aircraft to see if there was a problem. "No, we're just
running a little rich, is all," was the reply and the last words
heard by anyone of the ground from the flight. (The aircraft did not have voice
or data recorders, nor was it
required to have them.)
The aircraft made its way north out of Denver for a time and then
headed west and south in the Rockies in order to find their way into the
Clear Creek Valley, which they did around Idaho Springs. The altitude of
Stapleton Airport is approximately 5300 feet, but they were already flying
through a valley that was at a minimum 7500 feet and rising; Georgetown,
another 12 miles to the west, was 8500 feet.
The aircraft (1)
entered Clear Creek Valley near Idaho
Springs, passed (2)
Georgetown and (3)
Silver Plume before attempting to turn around near
(4) Dry Gulch.
Image ©2005 EarthSat/Google
In order to really "wow" the passengers, First Officer Skipper,
who was actually flying the aircraft, flew below the mountaintops
within the valley itself. Having driven through the area countless times
as a child and most recently in September, I can tell you that it is
indeed one of the more beautiful places on Earth, especially on a clear
day in the fall with the having leaves turned. And that opinion was formed
from a car; I can only imagine how it must have been to view it from an
By the time the aircraft made it to Georgetown, witnesses on the ground
were concerned. An unidentified pilot for a major airline who happened to
witness the plane as if flew over told the NTSB that it was no more than
1,000 - 1,500 feet above the town and appeared to be climbing at a slow
to the Crash Site!
||If you have Google Earth
installed, click here
to be "flown" to the crash site. Short of piloting
your Cessna to Loveland Pass, this is the best was to
understand what happened on Oct 2, 1970. (If you do not have
it installed, get
it from Google. It allows you to view virtually anywhere
on Earth in 3D using satellite imagery.) If you cannot
use Google Earth, click here
to see a 1979 satellite (via Microsoft's TerraServer and the
USGS) photo of the area.
||We also have a
page with pictures of the memorial on Interstate 70,
including satellite photos and a
complete list of passengers.
An engineer with Martin Marietta also saw ill-fated aircraft as it passed
over Georgetown and stated: "I had been a military pilot of
multi-engine aircraft during World War II and was awed by the aspect of
such a large aircraft cruising up the valley at approximately 500 to 1,000
feet above the terrain. The engines sounded as though they were throttled
back and not at high RPM, a condition not in keeping with what would be
expected if the aircraft was attempting to clear the Continental Divide.
When the plane made a turn to the right, I noticed a mushiness to its
flight characteristics. Both engines appeared to be running normally, no
smoke, fire or sounds of missing or backfiring."
The players and their entourage were enjoying the beautiful clear fall
day mostly out of their seatbelts standing and looking out both sides of
the aircraft. Not everyone was at ease with the flight, however. Lineman
David Lewis would testify that he was "very, very scared"
because the Rockies were "towering above the aircraft" from
shortly after they took off from Denver.
By this time, they were at 9,000-9500 feet and had been in the air
about 20 minutes though the NTSB has calculated that it was nearly twice
the amount of time necessary for the aircraft to have achieved 15,000
feet, had altitude been the goal rather than sightseeing. This altitude
also made even a single engine failure nearly impossible to recover from;
the altitude flown was reckless no matter how you look at it.
Another pilot familiar with the Loveland Pass area observed the
aircraft as he was driving eastward on US Highway 6 (Interstate 70, which
has largely replaced the function of both Highway 40 and 6, was not yet
complete through this area) about two miles east of Dry Gulch. He stated,
"Thinking it must be in trouble, I stopped the car to get out and
look and listen. My initial and firm feeling was that the plane was in
serious trouble as it was below the level of the mountains on either side
that form the valley, and I didn't see how it could possibly turn around.
Also, it was in nose high attitude and flying at a low rate of speed,
obviously straining to gain altitude, but barely keeping up with the rise
of terrain. I have driven over this route countless times and know that
the steepness of the slope increases radically in only 3 or 4 miles from
where he was and that the plane could never make it." He also said
that both engines sounded good as the aircraft passed over him, and he did
not observe any sign of smoke from either engine.
The aircraft, which was at approximately 11,000 feet, was entering an
area where it either had to rapidly clear 12,500 feet (or more) or turn
back towards Denver. Despite the accurate charts he had just purchased in
Denver, Skipper seemed unaware that he was flying into a "box"
canyon. Had he been at a safer altitude to begin with, he might have seen
the Continental Divide ahead, but as they entered the area near Loveland
Pass, his view was blocked by Mt. Sniktau (at 13,234 feet).
Though the pilot probably did not know it, the fate of the aircraft was
sealed. According to later testimony by Ed Gaydos, chief of aircraft
performance for the FAA, it was physically impossible for that plane to
have turned in time nor to gain enough altitude to clear the Continental
Divide (which is at 12,000 feet through Loveland Pass). He also stated
that with the thinness of the air near Loveland Pass, the speed at which
the plane was going, and the altitude it had at the time, the only thing
the plane could be expected to do was crash.
First Officer Skipper evidently recognized the danger for the first
time as well. He made a sharp right turn across Highway 6 in an attempt to
escape the rising terrain via Dry Gulch, but Captain Crocker quickly
realized this wasn't going to work either and took control of the
1. Loveland Pass, location
of rescuer and witness Ken Abrahamson.
2. Eisenhower Tunnel workers.
3. Approximate crash site.
site off Interstate-70 near Dry Gulch.
(Assumed path of aircraft in white with red dots.)
Image ©2005 DigitalGlobe,
Skipper later told investigators, "It began to look to me as if we
were not going to climb so as to have clearance, sufficient clearance,
over what I now know to be the Continental Divide ahead of us. I said
something to the effect to Captain Crocker that maybe we should reverse
course and gain some altitude. I initiated a turn to the right. We were to
the left side slightly of the valley." He continued, "I
initiated a turn of approximately 45 change in heading, a medium bank turn
which in my mind is somewhere between 20 and 30 degrees, and as I was
rolling out of this turn, Captain Crocker said 'I've got the airplane.' He
initiated a left turn, the aircraft began vibrating, he put the nose down,
and shortly thereafter we crashed."
The vibration was almost certainly related to the aircraft stalling. As
one expert later testified, "My recollection of the Martin 202-404
series is, that in its certification configuration, it had a very
pronounced stall buffet. There was no mistaking it when you got into the
stall." The latter part of his statement suggested to some that
Skipper would have known that it was a stall and that he phrased his
testimony in a way to suggest everything was under control and that
something mechanical happened to the plane to cause it to crash.
A sign reminds visitors of
both the altitude and the geologic feature they
are standing upon.
Image courtesy of the USGS
Linebacker Richard Stephens, who had been standing in the cockpit
doorway immediately behind the two pilots, stated that the vibration felt
like "a boat slapping water." Stephens stated that he went to
the cockpit because he was concerned about how they were flying
"beneath the mountaintops" but that it was clear that the pilots
Later, while he was still standing in the doorway, he overheard the
pilots discussing the elevation of the mountain peak ahead, and about that
time the quick right turn and left turn were made. He did not recall any
conversation between the two pilots other than this. The engines sounded
normal to him and, until the right turn was initiated, it did not seem to
him that the pilots were overly concerned about the flight.
After the aircraft made its initial turn to the right, a panicked David
Lewis looked to flight attendant Judy Lane, who said, "well, this
happens all the time." What Lewis did not know was the Lane had only
a month earlier completed a flight attendant training program and had no
prior aviation experience. (Flight attendants are taught to reassure
passengers to prevent them from panicking.)
Survivor Mike Bruce told the Chicago Tribune, "Everyone was
looking at the mountains. We kept getting closer and closer. We were
enjoying ourselves, laughing. The plane took a dip... or something. Next
thing, the plane ended up in the trees."
They were so close to the mountains that cornerback Johnny Taylor said
to teammate Glenn Kostal, "If I had a rifle, I could hit rabbits down
here." Kostal told the New Times, "The first sense that
there was any danger was a very violent turn to the right, when the pilot
was trying to do a (U-turn) to get out the canyon. Then there was a
violent turn tot he left, and a tremendous drop, like you were in an
elevator and somebody cut the cord. The stewardess was lifted up to the
front of the plane, airborne."
Watching the event unfold from Highway 6, directly below crash site,
was George Gruenwald: "My wife said, 'My God, I hope he doesn't land
on the highway in front of us.' But instead he veered off to the right and
kind up on a knoll, and I thought, what the hell is he going to do back
there because there is just another big mountain back there. The next
thing I saw was a big ball of fire coming up."
Survivor David Lewis, who knew something was wrong as the plane banked
to the left, looked to his friend, Don Christian. "He just turned
around and he had this expression on his face that I had never seen
before. I can't say it was fright, but I do know it was concern,"
said Lewis. "He just looked at me like a brother would. I'm sure I
was the last person he ever saw."
The inside of a Martin
4-0-4 now on display at the Airline History Museum
in Kansas City. The aircraft has ten rows of
double seats on each side to carry 40 passengers.
Image courtesy of AirNikon.
Find more of his photos at Airliners.net
Bob Renner later told a UPI reporter, "... we all noticed that the
mountains were above us. It was really beautiful. You had to look up to
see them. I asked coach Wilson if that was normal and he said, 'It's just
"Then we banked twice and I asked again and he said, 'Yes, it's
just routine.' The next thing I knew we went right into the trees. We had
no warning whatsoever. I've asked myself 100,000 times why I lived."
No mention of the impending doom was mentioned to the passengers by the
The steep left bank Crocker put the plane in was a desperate measure to
avoid the rapidly rising terrain of the valley, but it also stalled the
aircraft into the mountain; they simply did not have enough space left for
The last bit of flying captain Crocker did before his death probably
saved lives and, without the ensuing explosion, might have saved everyone.
Crocker, perhaps resigned to the fact that the aircraft was not going to
make it, leveled the plane out relative to the mountain. The impact almost
certainly would have been more violent without this last adjustment.
The stalled airliner struck trees at approximately 10,800 feet up the
side of Mount Trelease. Pieces of the aircraft broke off as it sliced
through the dense forest for another 350 feet. Trees in that area were as
tall as 50 feet.
Ten passengers and First Officer Skipper, who was occupying the left
pilot seat, survived the initial impact and fire. One had been seated in
row 4, and was the only person between rows 1 and 6 to survive. Two
survived from row 7 with two more in row 8 and three in row 9. Survivor
Richard Stephens was standing in the doorway to the cockpit and jumped
into the forward baggage compartment when he recognized that a crash was
All but one of the surviving passengers had their seatbelts unfastened.
They were thrown forward and to the left at impact. All who escaped from
the aircraft did so through a hole in the left side of the fuselage
or a hole in the right side of the cockpit.
In this recent photo by
Greg Records you can see one of the landing gears
on top part of the wing section.
Photograph by Greg Records,
June, 2005 (used with permission)
"The impact ripped the side of the plane wide open and then I
heard an explosion. It was burning pretty bad." Said Glenn Kostal,
who was in the back of the plane talking to teammates when it crashed.
Tackle Jack Vetter, who was trapped with teammates Randy Kiesau and Don
Christian near where Bob Renner had just escaped from, yelled to his best
friend, "Bobby, I'm burning. Get out of here." Kiesau, who had
switched planes in Denver, didn't say anything, "But he shook his
head like he was telling me not to help him."
Rescuers first arriving at the scene stated that the fuselage was
relatively intact, with a small hole on the right side and a large hole on
the left. One rescuer related that he observed fire in the forward baggage
compartment area. He was about to step inside the fuselage to assist any
survivors when an explosion occurred, and flames traveled aft into the
"And as soon as I got out and hit the ground, we could see the
fireball moving through the plane toward the front. Unfortunately, Johnny
Taylor had been standing in a stream of fuel when the fireball hit, and
that's how he got burned. He had the presence of mind to put himself out,
but his burns were too severe," said Kostal.
Investigators believed that many of the deceased initially survived the
impact. This was based on statements from the seriously injured copilot
who saw and talked to passengers lying in the forward baggage compartment
through the partially opened but jammed cockpit door. The opening was too
small to reach them. One of the first rescuers on the scene of the
accident related that he saw passengers on the floor in the forward
section of the cabin and that they were moving but making no effort to
extricate themselves. This rescuer noted that the seats in the aircraft
resembled "broken furniture" and that many seats were pushed
together in the forward section of the cabin. One of the survivors
mentioned having to free himself from a seat which was on top of him in
order to make his escape.
Construction crews working on what was then known as the Straight Creek
Tunnel (later renamed the Eisenhower Tunnel) a mile west saw the crash and
met some of the survivors as they came off the mountain. "When she
hit, it took off the tops of the trees, but it didn't break up - only the
wings came off," said worker Bob Nichols.
Ken Abrahamson and his coworker from Loveland Ski Area had received
first aid training and were among the first on the scene after the crash.
The entire fuselage eventually burned down to molten aluminum and the fire
continued for nearly 24 hours. "The crash site was littered with
baggage, shirts, playbooks, shoulder pads, athletic shoes, and football
helmets," recalled Abrahamson.
The eleven who initially survived were brought 65 miles to a pair of
Denver hospitals, including John Taylor and Tom Reeves in critical
condition. Reeves, the WSU trainer, died 3 days later. Taylor, a
cornerback from Sherman, Texas, died 24 days later. Both simply had been
burned over too wide an area of their bodies to recover.
The Katzenmeyer's deaths left two daughters without their parents and
the King's left behind five children. Flight attendant Judy Dunn had three
children and was an elementary school teacher. Fifteen of the deceased
were under the age of 22.
The second plane, carrying 23 passengers and crew, was on approach to
Logan, Utah, when assistant coach Bob Seaman was summoned to the cockpit
to receive a message from the university's president. He returned to the
cabin after about 10 minutes and simply said to the players, "the
other plane has gone down." The players soon left the airport for a
nearby hotel where they were given sedatives by a local physician.
The "black" plane itself was soon impounded in Logan, Utah
where the FAA alleged 16 violations. Pilot Leland T. Everett's license was
revoked when it was discovered his medical certificate was expired.
Aftermath and Investigation
By November 8, 1970, the NTSB had cast aside any mechanical problems as
a cause and issued a preliminary statement suggesting pilot error was the
sole cause of the crash.
At 10,800 feet (red), the
aircraft had only 2,400 feet in which to turn
around. At 11,000 feet (green), it would have had
over 3,000 feet and, the NTSB concludes, could
have made it at full power. But they were both too
low to go over the mountains and too low to turn
around within the valley.
Image ©2005 DigitalGlobe,
It was suggested that if the crew had realized the danger "less
than one minute sooner," they would have had time to turn around and
might not have crashed. The mountain on their right (Mount Sniktau)
blocked their view of the bigger mountain (Mount Trelease) just ahead that
they eventually crashed into. It was a mistake that no pilot should have
made - not when he had newly purchased charts sitting in the cockpit which
correctly showed the altitude and configuration of such obstacles.
The official NTSB report was released on Christmas Eve and concluded
the probable cause was, "the intentional operation of the aircraft
over a mountain valley route at an altitude from which the aircraft could
neither climb over the obstructing terrain ahead, nor execute a successful
course reversal. Significant factors were the overloaded condition of the
aircraft, the virtual absence of flight planning for the chosen route of
flight from Denver to Logan, a lack of understanding on the part of the
crew of the performance capabilities and limitations of the aircraft, and
the lack of operational management to monitor and appropriately control
the actions of the flightcrew."
The day after the accident, the FAA announced that Melvin Hanson, the
head inspector at its Wichita office, had informed Wichita State's ticket
manager on August 14 that Golden Aviation did not have a proper
certificate to fly aircraft of this size. The ticket manager in question,
Floyd Farmer, died in the crash.
Golden Aviation, which had rightly been ripped to shreds in the media,
held a press conference defending all of their practices and suggesting
that they were nothing more than an "employment agency." Ronald
Skipper even denied that he had taken a "scenic" route at all
but instead suggested that it was the "direct" route. According
to the NTSB, "The distance over this route is virtually the same as
it is over the 'scenic route' flown by Mr. Skipper. The change in routing,
therefore, was purely for sightseeing purposes."
In a effort to evade responsibility for crash, Jack Richards claimed
that his company was not the operator of the plane, but that he merely
leased it to Wichita State while Ronald Skipper of Golden Aviation claimed
that his company merely provided the crew and also were not the operator
of the aircraft. Both Richards and Skipper contented that Wichita State
University was the operator of the aircraft and that they would have to
accept legal responsibility. It was the position of Wichita State
officials that they had merely chartered the aircraft and Wichita State
was not the operator. An FAA witness testified that the FAA considered
Golden Eagle Aviation to be the operator, and as such did not have the
proper authority for the operation of Martin 404 aircraft.
It was very important to the future of Golden Aviation that they not be
legally seen as the operator of the aircraft as the Martin 404's each
weighed over 30,000 pounds without passengers and their FAA
certificate only allowed them to "operate" planes of up to
12,500 pounds. (And that license was revoked shortly after the
crash and they lost every appeal to get it back. During the appeals
process, a pilot named Donald Pinger testified that he helped set up a
dummy company through which Golden Aviation was able to lease the bigger
Transportation Secretary John Volpe was not amused. On March 3, 1971
and after many hearings in the Senate, Volpe called for an end to
"shady operators" that charter planes "behind the corporate
veil of dummy organizations."
In addition to Golden Aviation losing its licenses, Jack Richards was
fined $50,000 and had all of his planes grounded pending an investigation.
Lawsuits that took nearly a decade to settle were brought on behalf of the
families against Richards, Golden Aviation, Wichita State, and even the
FAA for not acting to prevent Golden from operating the flights when they
were aware of the arrangement.
Site, 35 years later
"At one point I walked
past liquid aluminum streaming down the mountain
from the intense heat of the fire." - Ken
In this second photo by Greg Records you can see
one of the landing gears pinned beneath a tree as
well as melted aluminum streaming down the hill.
Photograph by Greg Records,
June, 2005 (used with permission)
As with so many aircraft accidents, a number of factors were in play
and if any one of them had been removed from the equation, these players,
coaches and fans would have been attending a football game at Utah State
the next day. Here are a few:
- Had the original plane that was to be used for the flight not been
damaged in a windstorm, they would have been traveling over the
Rockies in a more powerful Douglas DC-6B instead of a pair of
20-year-old Martin 404s.
- Had Skipper read his newly purchased charts before taking off
instead of chatting with passengers, he would have realized how
dangerous a flight plan (to the extent there was a plan at all) he was
- Had the crew realized just a minute sooner that they were flying
into a box canyon, they might have climbed over the mountains or at
least had enough altitude to turn around.
- Had the aircraft not been overloaded, they also might have climbed
over the Continental Divide or at least might have been able to get
- Had the pilots realized sooner that they were going to crash,
passengers could have been asked to take their seats and fasten their
belts. It is not known for certain if the seats failed because of the
stress of the crash or because of the flying bodies, but it is very
likely that most passengers would have had a better shot at survival -
even with the subsequent explosion - had they been strapped in and had
the seats not failed.
- While landing the aircraft on Highway 6 would have been dangerous,
it certainly was an option.
- Perhaps most importantly, had the first officer (and president of
Golden Aviation) Skipper not decided to take a route he was unfamiliar
with for purely aesthetic reasons, there is no reason to assume the
"gold" plane would had a different fate than the
Wichita State University created "Memorial '70" the day after
the crash and a wreath is laid at the memorial in a ceremony each October
2nd. Survivor Dave Lewis attended the memorial service in 2005 for the
first time. There is also a memorial about 50 feet from I-70 near the
crash site. We have a page with
pictures and more information here.
Assistance coach Bob Seaman, who was on the plane that safely landed in
Logan, Utah, was hired to coach the team and the remaining players voted
76-1 to play the rest of the schedule, which they called the "second
season." The NCAA had a rule at the time against freshmen playing on
the varsity squad but agreed to lift it.
They opened on the road against ninth ranked Arkansas on October 24.
Seniors Don Pankratz and Bob Hayes came out for the pregame cointoss along
with John Hoheisel, another senior who survived the crash. Hoheisel made
it to midfield with the aid of crutches. All three were given a standing
ovation by the Arkansas fans.
Arkansas coach Frank Broyles, not wanting to run up the score against a
team that had already been blown out of its first three games before
the crash, got his starters out of the game as soon as possible. They
left after 18 plays with the Razorbacks up 20-0. Future 17-year NFL
quarterback Joe Ferguson threw for over 300 yards - as the third QB off
the bench for Arkansas.
With 10 sophomores and 7 freshmen in starting lineup, the Shockers lost
the game 62-0. None of the players who survived the crash played in the
John Yeros, a freshman wide receiver for the Shockers recently told the
Wichita Eagle, "Those that died they wouldn't have wanted us
to quit. It wasn't a great team to begin with. But it was a team that hung
With a roster now consisting of 43 freshmen, 24 sophomores, six
juniors, and three seniors, the team lost all nine of its games in 1970,
but played Louisville tough in the finale (losing 34-24). The 1972 Wichita
State Shockers - led by the same freshmen and sophomores who voted to
continue the '70 season - went 6-5 for their first winning season since
The program only had one more winning season - 8-3 in 1982 - before it
was discontinued following the 1986 season. Only 4,223 fans showed it for
the final home game.
Utah State, which was to be the Shockers' opponents on October 3, 1970,
did not have another football game cancelled until August 31, 2005, when a
scheduled game against Nicholls State (Thibodaux, Louisiana - 66 miles
southwest of New Orleans) was called off due to Hurricane Katrina.
The crash occurred less than a month shy of the 10-year anniversary of
the Cal Poly at San Luis Obispo football team crash that killed 16 members
of the team and six others on board. (Football broadcaster John Madden was
a tackle on the '57 and '58 Cal Poly teams and famously refuses to fly to
this day. He also refuses to talk about that crash.)
Tragically, this was not the only planeload of college football players
to crash in 1970. A month and a half later, all 75 aboard - including the
Marshall University football team - died when
their Southern Airways DC-9 crashed. The 2006 movie We Are Marshall
dramatized that event.
Sources: National Transportation
Safety Board (NTSB) report NTSB-AAR-71-4.
New York Times, October 3-18, 1970.
Chicago Tribune, October 3-11, 1970.
Los Angeles Times, October 3-17, 1970.
Washington Post, October 3-November 22, 1970.
New Times, October 1, 1998 ("Team Spirits" by Marty
Wichita Eagle, October 2, 1990 and October 2, 2005.