On November 14, 1970, tragedy came to the small town of Huntington, West Virginia when a Southern Airways flight carrying most of the Marshall University football team crashed into a hill just two miles from the airport. Test your knowledge of the deadliest sports-related disaster in U.S. history with these trivia questions…..
Who Was Aboard the Flight? Southern Airways Flight 932 took off from Kinston, North Carolina carrying 36 members of the Marshall University football team, 9 members of the coaching staff, 5 crew members, and 25 local "boosters" — Marshall fans who flew with the team to North Carolina to cheer on the team. Among the boosters were a city councilman, state legislator, and 4 physicians. It was the only flight of the year for the Marshall University football team and none of the 75 passengers aboard survived the flight. Nine members of the Marshall team had not traveled with the team and therefore were not aboard.
What Caused the Crash? Despite the horrific outcome, nothing about Flight 932's journey from North Carolina to West Virginia foretold the tragedy. The Southern Airways flight had begun its descent into Tri-State Airport at 7:23 pm with some light rain and fog reducing visibility, but a landing still possible. At 7:34 pm, the plane was cleared to land. Approach instructions directed the pilots to hold at 1,240 feet, but for an unknown reason — whether it be mechanical or human error — the plane descended an additional 300 feet and clipped the top of several trees. The plane immediately burst into flames and nearly inverted before crashing into a hollow nose-first. The tragedy was a culmination of unfortunate events for the Marshall football team that started in 1962 with the condemnation of their stadium and continued between 1966-69 while the team lost every single game and was suspended by the NCAA for over 100 recruiting violations. The team was back on track at the time of the crash and despite having lost the game to East Carolina earlier that day, felt positive about the direction things were headed.
What Happened to the Marshall University Football Team Following the Tragedy? Marshall University initially considered shutting down the school's football program entirely. However, a new coach named Jack Lengyel was hired and tasked with rebuilding the Marshall team. He did so with the help of the 9 veteran players not aboard the plane that day and some untraditional recruiting techniques, including poaching players from Marshall's basketball and soccer teams. The NCAA permitted Marshall to allow freshman students onto the varsity team, too. The rag-tag team lost its first game, but miraculously won the first home game of the season against Xavier with a last-minute touchdown pass that put the Thundering Herd in the lead 15-13. The victory was tremendously emotional for the town of Huntington. The events were portrayed in the 2006 film We are Marshall starring Matthew McConaughey as Coach Lengyel.
How is the Tragedy Memorialized Today? Several memorials exist both at Marshall University and the site of the plane crash. Most notably is the water fountain just outside the Student Center on Marshall's campus. The fountain was dedicated to the memory of the 75 victims in 1972. Each year on November 14, a memorial service is held where the fountain gets shut off until the following spring. A plaque also commemorates the crash site itself.