Kenova, WV Marshall University Football Team Airplane Crash, Nov 1970
REED flew into Huntington early Sunday to begin a month-long investigation into the cause of the crash, which he described as "one of the greatest tragedies in the annals of aviation history in our country."
The NTSB chief told a news conference the chartered plane's pilot at no time gave any indication of trouble during his radio talks with the control tower. REED said no evidence of any mechanical failure was found thus far.
Airline officials also arrived in Huntington Sunday to conduct their own investigation.
Southern Airways President GAYDON HALL said this was the first time Marshall had flown on his airline in recent years. HALL said he didn't know if the plane's pilot, FRANK H. ABBOTT, 47, of College Park, Ga., had even flown into the airport before. ABBOTT was a veteran of 21 years of flying with the airline.
However, HALL said ABBOTT was not the pilot who flew the DC9 Friday from Kenova to Greenville.
This was the first accident of any kind involving Southern Airways aircraft in its 21 years of operations, a company spokesman said.
Among the dead were 38 members of the football squad, head coach RICK TOLLEY, athletic director CHARLES KAUTZ and a group of prominent Huntington residents traveling with the team.
Acting Marshall President DR. DONALD N. DEDMON, declared the two days of mourning on campus. Flags were lowered to half-staff throughout Huntington.
As REED trampled through briars on the ridge top Sunday, he found a piece of the plane's wing and other bits of debris. A path was ripped through the trees about 40 feet above the ground, just below their tips.
"So damn close," said an aide to Gov. MOORE.
The ridge overlooking nearby Ashland, Ky., rises steeply above the Big Sandy River that forms the state line. The edge of the runway was visible through light wet snow about tow miles away.
Field charts carried by REED indicated the ridge rose 200 feet above the airport runway.
Weather experts said scattered rain clouds hung only 300 feet above the airport, giving the DC9 about a 100-foot clearance.
REED refused comment when asked if the pilot was coming in low in an effort to avoid the cloud cover.
The ridge would have been dark, he said, perhaps hidden between lights of a refinery and the river valley below and lights of the runway straight ahead.
Federal officials said the airport was not equipped with sophisticated radar that follows a landing plane's glide path and flashes a warning light in the cockpit if it drops too low.
But REED said it was not unusual for an airport of Tri-State's size to lack that equipment.
"Our problem was money," said DENVIL CHANDLER of the Tri-State Airport Authority board, who said the question of installing better radar systems had been discussed hundreds of times.
"We've always wanted something," CHANDLER said, "but we just couldn't get the support."
Investigators recovered the scorched flight recorder and the cockpit voice recorder from the wreckage Sunday. REED said both were being flown to Washington where experts would use them to reconstruct the last minutes of the doomed flight.
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