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Southern Airways Flight 932 was a chartered Southern Airways DC-9 commercial jet flight from Stallings Fieldmarker (ISO) in Kinston, North Carolinamarker to the Huntington-Tri-State/Milton Airportmarker (HTS) in Ceredo, West Virginiamarker. At 7:35 pm on November 14, 1970, the aircraft crashed into a hill just short of the Tri-State Airport, killing all 75 people on board. The plane was carrying 37 members of the Marshall Universitymarker Thundering Herd football squad, eight members of the coaching staff, 25 boosters, four flight crew members, and one employee of the charter company. The team was returning home after a 17–14 loss against the East Carolina Pirates (now their conference rivals) at Ficklen Stadiummarker in Greenville, North Carolinamarker. At the time, Marshall's athletic teams rarely traveled by plane, with most away games within easy driving distance of the campusmarker. The team had originally planned to cancel the flight, but changed plans and chartered the Southern Airways DC-9.


The aircraft involved was a 95-seat, twin jet engine Douglas DC-9-31 with tail registration N97S. The airliner's crew was Captain Frank H. Abbot, 47; First Officer Jerry Smith, 28; 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 first flight that year for the Marshall football team.

Events leading to the crash

The airliner left Stallings Field at Kinston, North Carolinamarker at a normal time for the charter flight and the flight proceeded to Huntington without incident. The airliner's crew had established radio contact with the controllers at the airport at 7:23 pm with the announcement that they were to descend to 5,000 feet. The controllers had advised the crew that there was "rain, fog, smoke and a ragged ceiling" making landing more difficult but not impossible. At 7:34 pm, the airliner's crew reported passing the Tri-State Airport's outer marker for the runway; the controller gave them clearance to land.


The airliner was on its final approach to Huntington, West Virginia's Tri-State Airportmarker when it collided with the tops of trees on a hillside 5,543 feet (1,690 m) west of runway 12. As a result of the impact, 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 had "dipped to the right, almost inverted and had crashed into a hollow 'nose-first'". By the time the plane had come to a stop, the plane was 4,219 feet (1,286 m) short of the runway and 275 feet (84 m) south of the middle marker. The fire was very intense, the fuselage being described as a "powder-like substance" by the NTSB; the remains of six individuals that were discovered on the plane 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 "...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 "...two most likely explanations (for the greater descent) are an improper use of cockpit instrumentation data, or (b) an altimetry system error". At least one source says that water which had seeped into the plane's altimeter could have thrown off its height readings, leading the pilots - who had never before flown into Tri-State Airport - to believe the plane was higher than was actually the case.

The board made three recommendations as a result of this accident, including equipment recommendations within aircraft for heads up display equipment, ground monitoring radar, and surveillance and inspection of flight operations.

On November 15, 1970 a memorial service was held at the Veterans Memorial Fieldhousemarker, where there were moments of silence, remembrances and prayers. The following Saturday another Memorial Service was held at 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 were buried at the Spring Hill Cemetery, some together.

The impact of the crash on Huntington went far beyond the Marshall campus. Because it was the Herd's only chartered flight of the season, many 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 28 of them left orphaned.

The crash of Flight 932 almost led to the discontinuation of the university's football program. The program was previously sanctioned by the NCAA for improper recruiting practices, and they were thrown out of the Mid-American Conference as a result (they returned in the 1990s, voluntarily leaving after the 2004-05 academic year). 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 just after one week and returned to Georgia Tech. Lengyel, who came from a coaching job at the College of Woostermarker, was hired by recently-hired athletic director Joe McMullen. Lengyel played for McMullen at the University of Akron in the 1950s.

Jack Lengyel, students and Thundering Herd football fans convinced acting Marshall President Dr. Donald N. Dedmon to reconsider. In the weeks afterward Lengyel, aided by receivers coach Red Dawson, a coach from the old staff who had driven back from the East Carolina game due to recruiting duties, began rebuilding the program. They brought together a group of players who were on the junior varsity during the 1970 season, other students and athletes from other sports. Many of these players had never attempted to play football before, and the team only won two games during the 1971 season, against Xaviermarker and Bowling Green. Jack Lengyel led the Thundering Herd to a 9–33 record during his tenure, which ended after the 1974 season.


Memorial at Spring Hill Cemetery in Huntington, WV to the victims of the 1970 plane crash.
Marshall Universitymarker President Donald Dedmon appointed a Memorial Committee soon after the crash. The committee decided upon one major memorial within the campus, a plaque and memorial garden at Fairfield Stadium and a granite cenotaphmarker at the Spring Hill Cemetery; the Memorial Student Center was designated a memorial as well.

On November 12, 1972, the Memorial Fountain was dedicated at the campus entrance to the Memorial Student Center. The sculpture's designer, Harry Bertoia, was an Italian artist who created the $25,000 memorial that incorporated bronze, copper tubing and welding rods. The 6500-pound, 13-foot-high (2900-kilogram, 4-meter-high) sculpture was completed within a year and a half of its conception. Employees from the F.C. McColm Granite Company installed a permanent plaque on the base on August 10, 1973. It reads:

Each year on the anniversary of the crash, those who died are mourned in a ceremony on the Marshall University campus in Huntingtonmarker, West Virginiamarker. A number of the victims of the plane crash are buried in a grave site in the Spring Hill Cemetery in Huntington; 20th Street, the road that leads from the cemetery to the campus, was renamed to Marshall Memorial Boulevard in their honor.

On November 11, 2005, the We Are Marshall Memorial Bronze was dedicated. The bronze 17×23-foot (5×7-meter) statue was created by artist Burl Jones of Sissonvillemarker and cost $150,000. It is based upon ideas by John and Ann Krieger of Huntington. It was donated to the university by Marshall fans and is attached to the Joan C.marker Edwards Stadiummarker on the west facade. It was unveiled to thousands only 90 minutes before the game with Miami University.

On December 11, 2006, a memorial plaque was dedicated at the plane crash site. The ceremony featured guest speakers William "Red" Dawson and Jack Hardin. The Ceredomarker and Kenovamarker fire departments were recognized at the event.

The memorial plaque reads:

Another plaque memorializing the 1970 Marshall football team was unveiled at East Carolina University on the same day and can be seen at the guest team entrance of Dowdy-Ficklen Stadiummarker. Featured speakers were Chancellor Steve Ballard, Athletic Director Terry Holland, Pirates’ broadcaster Jeff Charles, and Marshall President Stephen Kopp.

A memorial bell tower is being planned for a location on WV 75 near Exit 1 along Interstate 64.


See also


  1. Wilson, Amy. "The night Huntington died." December 18, 2006 Lexington Herald-Leader (KY). December 18, 2006 [1]
  2. Withers, Bob. "The story of the 1970 Marshall Plane Crash." December 19, 2006 Herald-Dispatch [Huntington]. December 19, 2006 [2].
  3. Drehs, Wayne. "Tragedy litters the sports landscape: Marshall remains the worst sports-related air disaster" November 13, 2000 [3].
  4. "AIRCRAFT ACCIDENT REPORT." 1972 Apr. 1972. National Transportation Safety Board. December 18, 2006 [4]
  5. The Marshall Story, College Football's Greatest Comeback, Henchard Press, Ltd. 2006 pp.36–37.
  6. Walsh, David. "Emotions of tragedy drew Lengyel to Marshall." November 13, 2005 Herald-Dispatch [Huntington]. December 19, 2006 [5].
  7. "Red Dawson helped mold 1971 team." December 19, 2006 Herald-Dispatch [Huntington]. December 19. 2006 [6].
  8. Withers, Bob. "Memorial Fountain designed to represent 'upward growth, immortality, eternality'." December 19, 2006 Herald-Dispatch [Huntington]. December 19, 2006 [7].
  9. Wellman, Dave. "Marshall Memorial Bronze unveiled to mix of emotions." November 12, 2000 Herald-Dispatch [Huntington]. December 19, 2006 [8].
  10. Pinkston, Antwon. "Kenova to dedicate crash memorial Monday." December 10, 2006 Herald-Dispatch [Huntington]. December 11, 2006 [9].

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