The Sunflower

Wichita State memorializes plane crash that left 31 dead

On Oct. 2, 1970, a plane carrying members of the WSU football team, head athletic officials, and some fans, crashed into a Colorado mountainside while trying to cross the Continental Divide. Thirty-one passengers died.

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Members of the Wichita State community gathered Tuesday morning to mourn the 31 lives lost when a plane carrying members of the Wichita State football team crashed into a mountainside on Oct. 2, 1970. Wichita State memorializes the incident every year at Football Memorial '70.

Members of the Wichita State community gathered Tuesday morning to mourn the 31 lives lost when a plane carrying members of the Wichita State football team crashed into a mountainside on Oct. 2, 1970. Wichita State memorializes the incident every year at Football Memorial '70.

Evan Pflugradt

Evan Pflugradt

Members of the Wichita State community gathered Tuesday morning to mourn the 31 lives lost when a plane carrying members of the Wichita State football team crashed into a mountainside on Oct. 2, 1970. Wichita State memorializes the incident every year at Football Memorial '70.

It was an oddly warm, sunny afternoon for October when Wichita State President Clark Ahlberg called Dean of Students Jim Rhatigan.

“Could you come home right away?” Ahlberg asked Rhatigan, who was in Kansas City for the weekend. “It looks like one of the planes went down on the way to Utah.”

On Oct. 2, 1970, a plane carrying members of the WSU football team, head athletic officials, and some fans, crashed into a Colorado mountainside while trying to cross the Continental Divide. Thirty-one passengers died.

“Have you heard from Bert Katzenmeyer?” Rhatigan asked Ahlberg.

Katzenmeyer, the WSU athletic director, had died on the plane.

“Lives were disrupted forever,” Rhatigan said.

Evan Pflugradt
Wichita State University President John Bardo reads from a prompt at the WSU Football Memorial. Wichita State recognizes the 31 lives lost at a memorial service held every year on Oct. 2, the date of the tragic plane crash.

Tuesday, members of the Wichita State community gathered to mourn the lives lost 48 years ago. WSU memorializes the incident every year at Football Memorial ‘70.

“Even though those affected by the tragedy are scattered, we are one — at this time, at this place, on this day,” WSU President John Bardo said Tuesday at the memorial service.

“It still grabs me a little now,” Rhatigan said. “Every year, you remember the disruption of those families. Everybody knew somebody on that plane.”

Evan Pflugradt
Sister of Marvin G. Brown, Jr. places a wreath on Football Memorial ’70. Marvin G. Brown, Jr. was 19 when he died. He graduated from Solomon High School and was majoring in physical education.

Rhatigan traveled with families to Colorado to visit survivors and identify the dead. Eight players and the co-pilot survived the crash.

WSU’s game at Utah State was cancelled. WSU cancelled a game with Southern Illinois the following week. Following a university memorial service, Ahlberg gathered the team in a room and told them to vote on the future of the season. No coaches were present in the meeting.

All but one player voted to continue the season.

Evan Pflugradt
Members of the Madrigal choir perform at the WSU Football Memorial, held Oct. 2, 2018.

Two weeks after the crash, the Shockers returned to action at Arkansas. Arkansas was the seventh ranked team in the country at that point. WSU never made a first down.

“Every time we ran the ball, it was a standing ovation,” Rhatigan said.

WSU lost that game 62-0. They’d lose all remaining games that season. The football team was disbanded after the 1986 season.

Evan Pflugradt
A wreath is placed on Football Memorial ’70. Family members of those who died in the plane crash on Oct. 2, 1970, place a wreath on the memorial each year to memorialize the 31 lives lost in the crash.

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About the Contributor
Evan Pflugradt, Sports Editor

Evan Pflugradt is the Sports Editor of The Sunflower.

Pflugradt graduated from the Elliott School of Communication in spring 2017, and was recognized as the Elliott School’s Most Outstanding Journalism Graduate for the 2017 graduating class. Pflugradt graduated from Wichita State with a bachelor of arts in communication — journalism.

He has previously served as The Sunflower’s Editor-in-Chief, Opinion Editor, and Sports Editor. Additionally, he worked as a digital news intern for KMUW, NPR for Wichita.

Pflugradt transferred to Wichita State from Johnson County Community College in 2015.

Currently, he’s a second-year graduate student seeking a master’s degree from the Elliott School of Communication.

 

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