Wichita State University Crash
A Martin 4-0-4, circa 1955, in Eastern Airlines livery. The plane that crashed, N464M, had previously flown with registration N460A for Eastern Airlines in the 1950s.[1]
Accident summary
DateOctober 2, 1970
TypeCrashed into mountain during low-altitude flight due to pilot error
SiteClear Creek County, 8 miles west of Silver Plume, Colorado, near the Loveland Ski Area,
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Aircraft typeMartin 4-0-4
OperatorGolden Eagle Aviation
Tail numberN464M, ex-N460A
Flight originWichita Mid-Continent Airport
StopoverStapleton International Airport
DestinationLogan-Cache Airport

The Wichita State University football team plane crash refers to a 1970 plane crash. On Friday October 2 in that year, at 1:14 p.m., a Martin 4-0-4 aircraft flown by Golden Eagle Aviation crashed into a mountain eight miles west of Silver Plume, Colorado.[2] The twin-engined propliner carried 36 passengers and a crew of four; 29 were killed at the scene and two later died of their injuries while under medical care.[3] It was one of a two-plane flight carrying the Wichita State University football team to Logan, Utah, for a game against Utah State University;[4] the second aircraft flew a different route and arrived safely in Utah. Pilot errors, including poor in-flight decisions and inadequate pre-flight planning, were officially reported as leading to the crash.[5]

Events leading up to the flight[edit | edit source]

About three months prior to the crash, Wichita State contracted Golden Eagle Aviation to supply a Douglas DC-6B, to be used to fly the team to its away games for the 1970 season.[4]. The four-engined DC-6 was a larger, more powerful aircraft that could accommodate the entire team. Golden Eagle Aviation did not own the DC-6, but had a separate arrangement with the Jack Richards Aircraft Company to use it.[4] After the agreements were made the DC-6 was damaged and was unavailable for use by the team.[4] A pair of Martin 4-0-4s which had not flown since 1967 were re-certified for flight, and on October 2, 1970 these were ferried from the Jack Richards Aircraft Company facilities in Oklahoma City to Wichita, instead of a DC-6.[5]

Initial leg[edit | edit source]

Upon arrival in Wichita, the two aircraft were loaded with luggage and the passengers were boarded. The planes took off and headed westward to a refueling stopover at Stapleton Airport in Denver; from there the planes would continue to Logan Airport, Utah.[6]

The two aircraft were dubbed "Gold" and "Black", after the team colors.[4] "Gold", the plane that would crash, carried the starting players, coaches and boosters, while "Black" transported the backup players and other support personnel.[7]

The President of Golden Eagle Aviation, Ronald G. Skipper, was the pilot flying "Gold". He was acting in the capacity of a First Officer because he did not have a type rating on the Martin 4-0-4.[5] During the flight to Denver he visited with passengers in the cabin, advising them that after refueling they would take a scenic route, near the Loveland ski resort. The crew flying the other team aircraft, "Black", would adhere to the original flight plan and take a more northerly route towards Wyoming after departing Denver, using a designated airway. This planned route allowed more time to gain altitude for the climb over the Rocky Mountains.[5]

Accident sequence[edit | edit source]

While the aircraft were being refueled and serviced, First Officer Skipper purchased aeronautical sectional charts for the contemplated scenic route.[6] The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation report stated the First Officer testified that he intended to use the charts to help point out landmarks and objects of interest to the passengers, and the report concluded the crew didn't allow enough time for the charts to be studied properly to avoid high terrain, before take off commenced.[5] After take-off in clear weather, the two planes took divergent paths away from Denver.

Shortly before the crash several witnesses described seeing a plane fly unusually low towards the Continental Divide. Some witnesses located on higher mountainside locations, such as Loveland Pass at 11,990 feet, reported seeing the plane flying below them.[5] The overloaded aircraft, nearing Loveland Pass as it flew up Clear Creek Valley, became trapped in a box canyon and was unable to climb above the mountain ridges surrounding it on three sides, nor complete a reversal turn away from the sharply rising terrain. At 1:14 p.m. the "Gold" aircraft struck trees on Mount Trelease 1,600 feet below the summit and crashed. The NTSB report stated a belief that many on board survived the initial impact, based on the testimony of survivors and rescuers.[5] The load of fuel on board did not explode immediately, allowing survivors to escape the wreckage, but the passenger cabin would eventually be consumed by an explosion before those still alive and trapped inside could escape. The dead included 29 passengers as well as the Captain and Flight Attendant. Two of the initial eleven survivors later died of their injuries.

Probable cause[edit | edit source]

The National Transportation Safety Board report states that weather played no role in the accident,[5] and lists the probable cause to be that the pilot made improper decisions in-flight or in planning:

"The intentional operation of the aircraft over a mountain valley route at an altitude from which the aircraft could neither climb over the obstructing terrain ahead, nor execute a successful course reversal. Significant factors were the overloaded condition of the aircraft, the virtual absence of flight planning for the chosen route of flight from Denver to Logan, a lack of understanding on the part of the crew of the performance capabilities and limitations of the aircraft, and the lack of operational management to monitor and appropriately control the actions of the flightcrew."[5][6]

Aftermath[edit | edit source]

The game was canceled, and the Utah State football team held a memorial service at the stadium where the game was to have been played and placed a wreath on the 50-yard line.[3] Wichita State University officials and family of the survivors were flown to Denver on a plane made available by the Governor of Kansas.[3] Classes were canceled for Monday, October 5, and a memorial service was held that evening at the university stadium.[3] The remaining Wichita team, with the NCAA and Missouri Valley Conference allowing freshman players to fill out the squad, decided to continue the 1970 season; it was later designated the "Second Season."[3]

Wichita and Utah State never met again.[8] Wichita State ended varsity football after the 1986 season. Utah State is currently in the Western Athletic Conference.

There have been other aircraft incidents involving American collegiate sports teams, including the Evansville basketball plane crash, a 1977 accident in Indiana where a chartered DC-3 carrying the entire University of Evansville men's basketball team crashed near Evansville's Dress Regional Airport. A total of 29 people were killed; including the entire team and the Head Coach Bobby Watson.[9] A little over one month after the October 2 Wichita State accident, 75 players, coaches and staff of the Marshall University Thundering Herd football team would die in the crash of Southern Airways Flight 932 near Ceredo, West Virginia.

Memorials[edit | edit source]

Wichita State University built a memorial for those who had died from the crash called Memorial '70. Every year on October 2 at 9 am, a wreath is placed at this memorial.[3]


Roadside memorial on Hwy 70, Loveland, CO.

A roadside memorial plaque listing the names of the victims is located near the Colorado crash site, adjacent westbound Interstate 70, about one mile east of the Eisenhower Tunnel.[10]

Bill Cosby and Monty Hall hosted a fundraiser for the Wichita State and Marshall athletic departments after the crashes, from Wichita [11].

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]

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