Kenova, WV Marshall University Football Team Airplane Crash, Nov 1970
The deaths plunged the Marshall campus of 8,500, and its mother city of 73,000, into a state of grief for the worst air disaster in American sports history. Classes were canceled Monday and Tuesday. Flags in the city, and at post offices across the state were flown at half-staff.
Monday, the NTSB investigators painstakingly searched for remnants of key flight instruments shredded apart in the crash. Also under way, was the task of identifying the charred bodies of the victims.
That operation was being supervised at a temporary airport hangar morgue by a special FBI disaster team, which by late Monday afternoon identified only 16 of the bodies.
Investigators said initial checks showed there was no pilot diversion from a normal landing glide path and showed no obvious mechanical malfunction.
JOHN H. REED, NTSB chairman, said it was only obvious that the pilot of the charter flight had his craft too low, causing the plane to clip tree tops on a ridge just west of Tri-State Airport's main runway. It was that perilous brush with the tops of the 70-foot-high oak and poplar trees that sent the jet cartwheeling into the next mountainside. The plane flipped on its back and exploded in flames.
Investigators have found no indication so far that the plane's pilot, Capt. FRANK H. ABBOTT, 46, of College Park, Ga., had ever attempted a previous jet landing at this airport's short 5,000-foot runway.
An NTSB spokesman said charter pilots are not required to pass the same route familiarity checks that scheduled airline pilots must fly.
The ridge was measured at 890 feet altitude with trees towering another 75 feet, to form a barrier almost 200 feet higher than the runway level. But landing rules required the jet to stay 400 feet above the runway until it reached the airport threshhold[sic].
In Washington, Rep. FLETCHER THOMPSON, R-Ga., blamed the crash on the Kenova airport's lack of an electronic glide slope landing system which he said would have kept the plane above the ridge.
The small facility has neither any radar from the control tower nor the glide slope system which flashes a warning light in the pilot's cockpit if the plane drops below the proper landing angle.
Federal Aviation Administration officials said the airport equipment was no better and no worse than that of scores of other small airports handling airline traffic daily.
THOMPSON called on the floor of Congress for Installation of glide scope systems at all of the nearly 300 U. S. airports which he said are handling airlines landings without the electronic aids.
He said, "I am confident that had there been an H. S. instrument landing system glide slope installed at the Huntington airport that the Marshall University football team and others on board the chartered DC9 would be alive today."
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