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Thu Nov 14, 2019, 07:45 AM

49 Years Ago Today; Southern Airways Flight 932 crashes in WV. "We Are Marshall"


1970 Marshall University Football Team

Southern Airways Flight 932 was a chartered Southern Airways Douglas DC-9 domestic United States commercial jet flight from Stallings Field (ISO) in Kinston, North Carolina, to Huntington Tri-State Airport/Milton J. Ferguson Field (HTS) near Kenova and Ceredo, West Virginia. At 7:36 p.m. on November 14, 1970, the aircraft crashed into a hill just short of the Tri-State Airport, killing all 75 people on board in what has been recognized as "the worst sports related air tragedy in U.S. history".

The plane was carrying 37 members of the Marshall University Thundering Herd football team, eight members of the coaching staff, 25 boosters, and five flight crew members. The team was returning home after a 17Ė14 loss to the East Carolina Pirates at Ficklen Stadium in Greenville, North Carolina.

At the time, Marshall's athletic teams rarely traveled by plane, since most away games were within easy driving distance of the campus. The team originally planned to cancel the flight, but changed plans and chartered the Southern Airways DC-9. The accident is the deadliest tragedy affecting any sports team in U.S. history. It was the second college football team plane crash in a little over a month. Wichita State's team plane crashed in Colorado just 43 days earlier killing 14 players and 31 people overall.


A Southern Airways Douglas DC-9 similar to the aircraft involved in the accident

The aircraft was a 95-seat, twin jet engine Douglas DC-9-30 with tail registration N97S. The airliner's crew was Captain Frank H. Abbot, 47; First Officer Jerry Smith, 28; and flight attendants Pat Vaught and Charlene Poat. All were qualified for the flight. Another employee of Southern Airways, Danny Deese, was aboard the flight to coordinate charter activities. This flight was the only flight that year for the Marshall University football team.

Events leading to the crash
The original proposal to charter the flight was refused because it would exceed "the takeoff limitations of their aircraft. The subsequent negotiations resulted in a reduction of the weight of passengers and baggage...and the charter flight was scheduled." The airliner left Stallings Field at Kinston, North Carolina, and the flight proceeded to Huntington without incident. The crew established radio contact with air traffic controllers at 7:23 pm with instructions to descend to 5,000 feet. The controllers advised the crew that there was "rain, fog, smoke and a ragged ceiling" at the airport, making landing more difficult but possible. At 7:34 p.m., the airliner's crew reported passing Tri-State Airport's outer marker. The controller gave them clearance to land.

The aircraft began its normal descent after passing the outer marker, but did not arrest its descent and hold altitude at 1240 ft, as required by the assigned instrument approach procedure. Instead, the descent continued for another 300 ft for unknown reasons, apparently without either crewmember actually seeing the airport lights or runway. In the transcript of their cockpit communications in the final minutes, the pilots briefly debated that their autopilot had "captured" for a glide slope descent, although the airport was only equipped with a localizer. The report also noted that the craft approached a refinery in the final 30 seconds before impact, which "could have...affected...a visual illusion produced by the difference in the elevation of the refinery and the airport," which was nearly 300 ft higher than the refinery--and that only after a craft would pass over a few intervening hills.

The co-pilot, monitoring the altimeter called out, "It's beginning to lighten up a little bit on the ground here at...seven hundred feet.... We're two hundred above [the descent vector]," and the charter coordinator replied, "Bet 'll be a missed approach." The corresponding flight recorder shows that the craft descended another 220 ft in elevation within these 12 seconds, and the co-pilot calls out "four hundred" and agrees with the pilot they are on the correct "approach." However, in the next second the co-pilot quickly calls out new readings, "hundred and twenty-six ... HUNDRED," and the sounds of impact immediately follow.

The airliner continued on final approach to Tri-State Airport when it collided with the tops of trees on a hillside 5,543 feet (1,690 m) west of runway 11 (now runway 12). The plane burst into flames and created a swath of charred ground 95 feet (29 m) wide and 279 feet (85 m) long. According to the official NTSB report, the accident was "unsurvivable". The aircraft "dipped to the right, almost inverted and had crashed into a hollow 'nose-first'". By the time the plane came to a stop, it was 4,219 feet (1,286 m) short of the runway and 275 feet (84 m) south of the middle marker. Although the airport runway has since been lengthened past its original threshold, making historical measurements more difficult, the NTSB official report provides that "the accident occurred during hours of darkness at 22' 27" N. latitude and 82į 34' 42" W. longitude." The report additionally notes, "most of the fuselage was melted or reduced to a powder-like substance; however, several large pieces were scattered throughout the burned area." The remains of six passengers were never identified.

The National Transportation Safety Board investigated the accident and their final report was issued on April 14, 1972. In the report the NTSB concluded that the probable cause was that "...the accident was the result of a descent below Minimum Descent Altitude during a nonprecision approach under adverse operating conditions, without visual contact with the runway environment...". They further stated, "The Board has not been able to determine the reason for the (greater) descent, although the two most likely explanations are an improper use of cockpit instrumentation data, or (b) an altimetry system error." At least one source says that water that had seeped into the plane's altimeter could have thrown off its height readings, leading the pilots to believe the plane was higher than was actually the case.

The board made three recommendations as a result of this accident, including recommendations for heads-up displays, ground proximity warning devices, and surveillance and inspection of flight operations.

Subsequent events at Marshall
On November 15, 1970, a memorial service was held at the indoor, 8,500-seat Veterans Memorial Fieldhouse with moments of silence, remembrances, and prayers. The following Saturday another memorial service was held at the outdoor, 18,000-seat Fairfield Stadium. Across the nation many expressed their condolences. Classes at Marshall, along with numerous events and shows by the Marshall Artists Series (and the football team's game against the Ohio Bobcats), were canceled and government offices were closed. A mass funeral was held at the Field House and many of the dead were buried at the Spring Hill Cemetery, some together because bodies were not identifiable.

The effects of the crash on Huntington went far beyond the Marshall campus. Because it was the Herd's only charter flight of the season, boosters and prominent citizens were on the plane, including a city councilman, a state legislator, and four physicians. Seventy children lost at least one parent in the crash, with 18 of them left orphaned.

The crash of Flight 932 almost led to the discontinuation of the university's football program. New coach Jack Lengyel, Marshall University students, and Thundering Herd football fans convinced acting Marshall President Donald N. Dedmon to reconsider canceling the program in late 1970. In the weeks afterward, Lengyel was aided in his attempts by receivers coach Red Dawson. Dawson was a coach from the previous staff who had driven back from the East Carolina game along with Gail Parker, a freshman coach. Parker flew to the game, but didn't fly back, having switched places with Deke Brackett, another coach. Dawson and Parker were buying boiled peanuts at a country store in rural Virginia when they heard the news over the radio. Before the trip, they were scheduled to go on a recruiting mission to Ferrum College after the ECU ó Marshall game (in an effort to recruit Billy Joe Mantooth, who eventually transferred to WVU instead). After the crash, Red Dawson helped bring together a group of players who were on the junior varsity football team during the 1970 season, as well as students and athletes from other sports, to form a 1971 football team. Many had never played football before.

Head coach Rick Tolley was among the crash victims. Jack Lengyel was named to take Tolley's place on March 12, 1971, after Dick Bestwick, the first choice for the job, backed out after just one week and returned to Georgia Tech. Lengyel, who came from a coaching job at the College of Wooster, was hired by recently hired athletic director Joe McMullen. Lengyel played for McMullen at the University of Akron in the 1950s.

The Marshall University football team only won two games during the 1971 season, against Xavier and Bowling Green. Jack Lengyel led the Thundering Herd to a 9Ė33 record during his tenure, which ended after the 1974 season.


Terribly tragic...

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Reply 49 Years Ago Today; Southern Airways Flight 932 crashes in WV. "We Are Marshall" (Original post)
Dennis Donovan Nov 14 OP
LeftInTX Nov 14 #1
appalachiablue Nov 14 #2
Alliepoo Nov 14 #4
appalachiablue Nov 14 #5
Alliepoo Nov 14 #6
appalachiablue Nov 14 #7
babylonsister Nov 14 #3

Response to Dennis Donovan (Original post)

Thu Nov 14, 2019, 08:05 AM

1. Gosh, I don't remember this...but I should

I appreciate your historical articles, Dennis Donavan

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Response to Dennis Donovan (Original post)

Thu Nov 14, 2019, 08:10 AM

2. The effects of the disaster on MU and the community were massive,

dark times for some folks and families for years. While a HHS student I spent time learning, growing and making lifetime friends at MU, a special place. ~ The 2007 film, "We Are Marshall" with Matthew McC. was quite well done (minus some funky period attire).

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Response to appalachiablue (Reply #2)

Thu Nov 14, 2019, 09:51 AM

4. It was horrible.

My folks grew up in that area. My mom was from Grayson and my dad graduated from Ceredo-Kenova HS and attended Marshall. I was born in Huntington but moved to Ohio as a youngster. I remember after this happened we ere visiting my grandparents in Ceredo and driving to Ashland and looking over to see where the crash happened. It was so darn sad and it still is.

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Response to Alliepoo (Reply #4)

Thu Nov 14, 2019, 10:04 AM

5. As a kid we flew out of that airport a number of times. A friend's

uncle, a local businessman was a team booster and went 'down with ship.' I can remember this like yesterday. Htgn. was a very nice town when it was thriving.

Marshall has come a long way and has much to be proud of. The students I knew there were local, from all over and very engaged in politics and activism in the late 60s, early 70s-- much more than colleges elsewhere. WVA being a solid labor and Dem. state at the time accounts for a lot of that.

The decades of brain drain of young people and others from WV and central Appalachia has been crippling along with other factors.

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Response to appalachiablue (Reply #5)

Thu Nov 14, 2019, 11:50 AM

6. My Aunt was one of the first women to open her own business in Huntington!

Dellaís Beauty Shop. Youíre right- it was a wonderful town and I still enjoy visiting. I donít have any family in Huntington -CK any longer but lots of cousins in Ashland. I used to love driving around Ritter Park and having dinner at Jimís -loved their spaghetti. My oldest daughter toured Marshall when looking for a college and one of her friends graduated from there! Go Herd!! Itís a great school!! I do remember when WV was a strong dem state. Itís a shame whatís happened over the past few decades. Hopefully it will get turned back in the right direction.

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Response to Alliepoo (Reply #6)

Response to Dennis Donovan (Original post)

Thu Nov 14, 2019, 09:16 AM

3. Tragic indeed. I only remember this because I

saw the movie fairly recently.


We Are Marshall (2006)
PG | 2h 11min | Drama, Sport | 22 December 2006 (USA)
We Are Marshall Poster
0:32 | Trailer
When a plane crash claims the lives of members of the Marshall University football team and some of its fans, the team's new coach and his surviving players try to keep the football program alive.

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