From the archives: Football players, coach and dean perished when ‘Gold’ plane fell

Wichita State experiences the worst disaster in the history of American college football, as told in 1970.

Where+have+all+the+flowers+gone%3F+The+tear-filed+eyes+of+this+young+lady+at+Memorial+services+for+those+killed+in+last+week%27s+tragedy+express+the+shock+and+emotion+felt+by+much+of+the+Wichita+community.+More+than+12%2C000+people+came+to+Cessna+Stadium+Monday+night+to+pay+tribute+to+those+who+died.+Oct.+9%2C+1970.+

Where have all the flowers gone? The tear-filed eyes of this young lady at Memorial services for those killed in last week’s tragedy express the shock and emotion felt by much of the Wichita community. More than 12,000 people came to Cessna Stadium Monday night to pay tribute to those who died. Oct. 9, 1970.

This story was originally published in The Sunflower on Monday, Oct. 5, 1970. 


Wichita State University fell victim to the worst disaster in the history of American college football Friday as a game-bound plane carrying twenty-six members of the Wichita State football team, head athletic officials and some of the most ardent Shocker fans crashed into a Colorado mountainside while trying to cross the Continental Divide. Of the forty persons aboard who were traveling to Logan, Utah, for the Wichita State-Utah State football game, twenty-nine persons died; eleven survived.

Reports indicate that the twin engine plane, a chartered Martin 404, was flying low as it passed over Idaho Springs, Colo., and that the plane crashed and burned on the side of a densely wooded mountain near the Loveland Ski Basin. According to the Federal Aviation Association officials, there was apparently no radio contact before the plane went down.

Michael C. Bruce one of the surviving football players, said that after the plane crashed he made his way out of the burning wreckage and went to a nearby construction camp for help. Construction workers and Clear Creek County, Colo. officials then took injured passengers for medical attention in nearby Idaho Springs.

University Receives News

At approximately 3 p.m. Friday Wichita State officials received the message that the “Gold” team plane had gone down. Sports and University officials, worried friends and relatives gathered in Henry Levitt Arena to hear further information as it was reported to the University.

Clark D. Ahlberg, president of Wichita State University, directed messages to those waiting in the Arena as news was available. By Friday evening Dr. Ahlberg had obtained a list of persons on board the ill-fated plane, and had arranged through Kansas Governor Robert Docking for an Air National Guard C-54 airplane to fly families and friends of the “Gold” plane passengers to Colorado.

Black Plane

In Logan, Utah, prior to the landing of the “Black” plane, Assistant Football Coach Robert Seaman was called to the pilot’s cabin and was told that he had a phone call waiting at the Logan Airport from Dr. Ahlberg. Seaman debarked from the plane, and approximately 10 minutes later returned to make a roll call of those passengers aboard the “Black” plane. He then announced that the plane carrying the rest of the team had gone down. Assistant Coaches Seaman and Charles Ramsey left Utah on a commercial flight to Denver shortly after they heard about the crash.

Coach Fred Conti called the players on the second flight into a motel room Friday evening and gave them what information was available.

“I know this has hit you as hard as it has hit us, but let’s … pray for the best. We need you now more than ever. So please stay with us. In your own way, say a prayer and hope for the best,” Conti said.

The players ate box lunches at the motel and then attended church.

Sports Office

The official list of those aboard the safe plane was then relayed to the Sports Information Office where Ahlberg informed families, friend and football players, who had not made the Logan trip, of the news. At that time Ahlberg announced the names of the 11 persons who had been taken from the wreck for treatment in nearby hospitals. Ahlberg, then not knowing if there were other survivors, made arrangements for the National Guard plane to transport those wanting to go to the scene of the wreck.

Leaving the McConnell Air Force Base National Guard Hangar in Wichita were Ahlberg, D. Cramer Reed, dean of the College of Health Related Sciences, and families and friends of “Gold” plane passengers all wondering what they would find in Colorado and hoping for the very best.

Bodies Recovered

Late Friday night Clear Creek County officials said they had “no hopes” of finding other crash survivors. By Saturday night rescue crews had recovered the bodies of the twenty-nine missing team members, officials and fans.

Other Players Return

On Saturday afternoon the passengers aboard the “Black” plane were flown back to Wichita. Arriving at Wichita Municipal Airport the players were transported to Fairmount Towers, “home” for the unmarried Shockers, where they were reunited with families and friends.

The team members met briefly with University officials after returning to Wichita, but no decision on the future of Wichita State football was made.

Sunday the remaining members of the football team, both those who safely made the Logan trip and those who were not on the traveling team attended services together at University United Methodist Church, ate lunch with assistant coaches and held meetings with coaches and faculty members.

“They’re spending a lot of time together and talking about their future,” said Dr. John B. Breazeale, Wichita State academic vice president and dean of faculties.

The future of the 1970 football season is still in doubt. No decision has, as yet, been reached as to whether Wichita State will continue to have varsity football this year. The Shockers still have seven games scheduled. Although their Saturday game with Southern Illinois was cancelled, games with Cincinnati, Arkansas, Tulsa, Memphis State, North Texas State, and Louisville are still scheduled.

A University spokesman said that the first thing to be considered will be whether or not the players themselves want to continue this season. University officials also stated that the National Collegiate Athletic Association has indicated it would have no objection to the use of freshman in games if the Missouri Valley Conference, of wichit the Shockers are members, gave its approval.

Investigations

After the “Black” plane reached Logan and the Federal Aviation Administration received work of the “Gold” plane crash, FAA officials impounded the “Black” plane. Investigations of the causes of the crash of the “Gold” plane are in process by both the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Federal Aviation Agency. A team of federal investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board will also investigate the crash.

The planes, chartered by the Golden Eagle Flying Service of Oklahoma City, Okla., are titled to the Jack Richards Aircraft Co.

Letter written by Richard M. Nixon, President of the United States

Sent from Air Force One

Friday, Oct. 2, 1970

Dear President Ahlberg,

It was a great shock to learn this morning that one of the airplanes carrying the Wichita State football teams had crashed yesterday and that so many lives had been lost.

Mrs. Nixon and the members of my traveling party join me in expressing our deepest sympathy to the families of those who were killed in this tragic accident and also to you and to the members of the Wichita State community.

To those who were injured in the accident, we send our good wishes for a full and rapid recovery. We know that the spirit that characterized your team will live on in your lives and your memories.

Our thoughts and prayers are with all of you at this sad hour.