Today in Sports History: November 14th

11/14/1970 - Marshall athletes die in plane crash

"A dreary Autumn morning fits the mood of the Marshall University campus. Nowhere does one see any smiles. The sorrow of last night's disaster has exhausted students and officials. This morning there is a quiet pause here as this university of 8500 students tries to decide what happens next.

"A university spokesman says that the main job is contacting and helping parents and friends of the victims who want to come here to Huntington to be near the bodies of those who died last night. Reportedly the crash was of such violence that most victims will be difficult or impossible to identify in the armory that police are using as a morgue near the airport. There will be a memorial service here on campus this evening, but for now--except for official meetings--this campus appears to have entered a period of exhausted sleep." - Tony Sargent, CBS News

On November 14, 1970, members of the Marshall University football team boarded a plane home, following a loss to East Carolina. The foggy weather made it difficult to see and a light rain persisted throughout the flight. As Southern Airways Flight 932 attempted to land, it inexplicably descended before clearing the runway. Whether it was from a mechanical error or the pilot's ineptitude, no one was sure. The aircraft clipped the top of some trees and crashed in the woods less than a mile from Huntington Tri-State airport. The plane exploded on impact; there were no survivors.

Of the seventy-five dead, thirty-seven were Marshall players, eight were coaches, and twenty-five were boosters. The news made headlines throughout the country and was a devastating hit for the town of Huntington, West Virginia. Governor Arch A. Moore called it, "A tragedy of the highest degree."

Marshall considered canceling the football program but never went through with it. The team struggled throughout the 70's and 80's and attendance plummeted. Things turned around in the 90's however, when they became the winningest team of the decade, thanks to players such as Troy Brown and Randy Moss.

The crash is listed as the worst sports-related disaster in this country. It was not even two months removed from an aerial accident that took the lives of 14 Wichita State football players. In an amazing set of circumstances, Marshall had changed the type of plane they would travel in after hearing what had happened to Wichita State. Their trip back from East Carolina was the first time the team had used a plane all season. If not for that crash six weeks earlier, Marshall would have boarded a completely different aircraft with, in all likeliness, a completely different crew. They probably would've survived.

Further reading:

A tome of information about the crash

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