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The Sunflower

Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

Survivors, families remember 1970 plane crash as stadium enters demolishment phases

Over 50 years ago, the stands of Cessna Stadium were once filled with the fans and families of the Wichita State football team. As of 2022, the east side of the stadium was torn down as a part of a multi-phase renovation

Ed Plopa was a member of the Wichita State football team who sat in the “Black Plane” that fateful day. He said it saddened him to know that part of the stadium would be torn down because it was something that could be enjoyed by the older and newer generations that knew the football team. 

“Trouble, is that they don’t make any more Wichita State football players, unfortunately, and that really hurts,” Plopa said. 

On Monday, Oct. 2, the Wichita State Athletics Department hosted a ceremony for the 53rd anniversary of the football team’s plane crash at Memorial ‘70. The crash claimed 29 lives upon impact; trainer Tom Reeves and player John Taylor died later due to their injuries.

The day in 1970 began just like any travel day for the team, who were on their way to face off against Utah State. The team was separated into two planes, the “Gold Plane” and the “Black Plane.” They made a pit stop to refuel in Denver. 

“It was a beautiful day. We were going to the Rocky Mountains,” Rusty Featherstone, member of the football team, said. “Everybody was excited, saying ‘Hey, this is gonna be a great day.’” 

When the “Black Plane” landed in Logan, Utah, the players were confused when the police sirens and media were there to greet them. 

“It’s something that you wish that never happened. Sometimes, you think it might have been a bad dream because that’s kind of like when it first happened,” Featherstone said. 

The team was told on the plane that the “Gold Plane” had gone down somewhere on Mount Trelease, near Silver Plume, Colorado. 

Featherstone was a member of the Wichita State football team who was asked by a member of the “Gold Plane,” John Duren, to join him because there was an empty chair on the plane. Featherstone, who had known Duren his whole life, laughed but declined the invitation because he was finally winning in Spades with his friend, Lino Venerucci who was on the “Black Plane.”  

“I couldn’t even be guilty because I didn’t make the changes in the seating lineup at the last second,” Featherstone said.

Featherstone said the memorial ceremony is their way of coming together, seeing each other and remembering.

“We didn’t have counselors and all that, so it was up to us to find a way to stay focused and get on with our life,” Featherstone said. 

Pat Blanchard was a fraternity brother to five football players, who lost their lives in the crash. He said the plane crash didn’t just affect the victims but the family and friends.

 “We knew everybody wasn’t just exclusive to the fraternity, but we knew everybody,” Blanchard said. 

Athletic Director Kevin Saal said it is important for younger people to understand what happened.

“It’s a tragic event in our history, and I think if we allow ourselves to forget, maybe we allow ourselves to not appreciate what we’ve been blessed with,” Saal said. 

The Memorial ‘70 sculpture is located near 18th and Hillside. 

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About the Contributors
Melanie Rivera-Cortez, Sports Editor
Maegan Vincent, Former photographer
Maegan Vincent was a reporter and photographer for The Sunflower.

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    Lisa MischOct 3, 2023 at 7:03 pm

    Saw that notice on ABC Chicago ticker tape during a U of Illinois game. Who knew some years later that I would be attending WSU coming from the South side of Chicago. Our high school football Coach Ron Tomczak, Sr. Father of Chicago Bears Mike Tomczak, played football here and convinced my boyfriend Steve Kalocinski to come to WSU to play basketball. Hecwas gere 1975-1979 and I 1976-1980. Decisions we never regretted. I played siftball 1979 and 1980. Always a Shocker!!!