Silver Plume, CO Airplane Crash Kills Wichita State Football Players, Oct 1970
Air Crash Kills Wichita State Gridders
13 Players, 16 Others Lose Lives.
SILVER PLUME, Colo. (UPI) -- A 20-year-old airplane carrying Wichita State University football players, crashed into a mountain patched with snow high in the Colorado Rockies Friday and exploded in flames killing 29 persons.
It was the worst disaster in American sports history and the deadliest U. S. plane crash of 1970.
Eleven survivors, who wandered badly burned and dazed cut of heavy stands of pine, were taken to two hospitals in Denver, 65 miles to the east.
The Colorado State Patrol said the remaining football players, coaches and fans among the 40 persons aboard the chartered craft, which had a crew of four, were presumed dead.
The team was en route to Logan, Utah, for a game today with Utah State. The Kansas team was traveling in two planes, twin-engine Martin 404's -- aircraft built in the late 1940's and early 1950's.
The second plane carrying 38 persons, including 22 football players, landed safely in Logan an hour after the crash of its companion plane.
"These kids genuinely loved each other," said FRED COALI [CONTI], the team's defensive coordinator, fighting back tears and shaking his head. "We were a young team and these boys have been playing well together. We thought we were really building something."
Thirteen members of Wichita State's 45-member squad died in the crash. Nine players survived along with the co-pilot and the team trainer.
The dead included head coach BEN WILSON, athletic director A. C. "BERT" KATZENMEYER and their wives.
The plane, owned by Jack Richards Aircraft Co., with a crew provided by Golden Eagle Aviation Co., both of Oklahoma City, burned through the night.
Battered black and gold football helmets littered the mountainside. There were smouldering shirts and ties, shoulder pads, a pair of cleats with No. 63 scratched inside and a charred book of Wichita State football plays.
The aircraft lost power and, with engines sputtering, trailed black smoke as it plunged to earth about 1 p. m. GLEN KOSTAL, a starting linebacker, was chatting with four teammates at the rear of the plane when he realized something was wrong.
"The plane took a sharp bank to the left and then another sharp bank to the right and then it hit," said the 20-year-old Chicago youth from his hospital bed in Denver.
KOSTAL, who suffered a deep gash on his head, said he escaped through a hole ripped in the side of the plane on impact. He said the plane's gasoline tanks ruptured, setting the craft afire.
"We could hear quite a few screams inside," KOSTAL said. "A couple of the guys went back to the plane to try to get some of the other players out. But they couldn't do it."
The worst previous American football tragedy occurred on Oct. 29, 1960, when 16 members of the Cal Poly team died in a plane crash at Toledo, Ohio, that killed 22 persons. In 1961, a Belgium plane crash killed 73 persons, including 10 members of the U. S. figure skating team.
A team bus carrying the Spokane Indians of the Western International Baseball League rolled down an embankment in Washington state on June 24, 1946, killing nine persons.
The National Transportation Safety Board in Washington sent an eight-man team to Colorado to investigate the crash of the Martin 404 -- a propeller-driven plane which cruises at a speed of 250 miles an hour and holds up to 41 passengers.
"We saw a plane coming up the canyon, very slow and very low," said George J. Gruenwald, a tourist from Huntington Beach, Calif. He said the plane narrowly missed his car in its plunge to earth.
"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 a little bit and kind of on on a knoll, and I thought, what the devil 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."
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