Southern Airways Flight 932
was a chartered Southern Airways DC-9 commercial jet flight from Stallings
Field (ISO) in Kinston, North Carolina to the Huntington-Tri-State/Milton
Airport (HTS) in Ceredo, West Virginia.
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
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
Stadium in Greenville, North Carolina. At the time, Marshall's athletic teams rarely
traveled by plane, with most away games within easy driving
distance of the campus.
The team had originally planned to cancel
the flight, but changed plans and chartered the Southern Airways
The aircraft involved was a 95-seat, twin jet engine Douglas DC-9-31
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
airliner left Stallings Field at Kinston, North Carolina at a normal time for the charter flight and the
flight proceeded to Huntington without incident.
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.
airliner was on its final
approach to Huntington, West Virginia's Tri-State
Airport 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
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.
November 15, 1970 a memorial service was held at the Veterans
Memorial Fieldhouse, where there were moments of silence, remembrances
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
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
who came from a coaching job at the College of Wooster, was hired by recently-hired athletic director
Lengyel played for
McMullen at the University of
in the 1950s.
Jack Lengyel, students and Thundering Herd football fans convinced
acting Marshall President Dr. Donald
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 Xavier and Bowling Green.
Lengyel led the Thundering Herd to a 9–33 record during his tenure,
which ended after the 1974 season.
University 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 cenotaph at the Spring Hill Cemetery; the Memorial Student
Center was designated a memorial as well.
Memorial at Spring Hill Cemetery in Huntington, WV to the victims
of the 1970 plane crash.
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:
on the anniversary of the crash, those who died are mourned in a
ceremony on the Marshall University campus in Huntington, West
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 Sissonville 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. Edwards Stadium 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 Ceredo and Kenova fire departments were recognized at the
The memorial plaque reads:
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 Stadium.
Featured speakers were Chancellor Steve
Ballard, Athletic Director Terry
, 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
of notable accidents and incidents on commercial aircraft
- Southern Airways Flight 242 - the only other fatal Southern Airways accident.
- Superga air disaster - an accident which killed nearly the whole
Torino F.C. team.
- Wichita State University
Crash - in which one of two planes carrying team members
and coaches crashed, with fatalities and some survivors that
occurred on October 2, 1970.
- Cal Poly
Football Team Plane Crash - a fatal accident that led to the deaths of
sixteen of the players
- Univ. of Evansville Men's
Basketball tragedy - 29 passengers including the team, crew,
and radio announcer, occurring the evening of December 13,
- The Purdue Wreck- 17 Purdue
University football players, coaches, alumni, and fans perish in a
train wreck in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA on October 31, 1903.
- Munich air disaster - a fatal accident that killed several members of
the 1958 Manchester United
- Sabena Flight 548 - a 1961
accident that killed the entire United States Figure Skating team
- Boys in Red Tragedy - a road accident that killed 7 members of the
Bathurst High School basketball
team in 2008. Jack Lengyel flew to the community after this
disaster to assist in the grieving process.
- Uruguayan Air Force Flight
571 - a plane crash that claimed the lives of many
players of a rugby team.
State basketball plane crash - crash that killed two players,
team staff and various media in 2001.
- Wilson, Amy. "The night Huntington died." December 18, 2006
Lexington Herald-Leader (KY).
December 18, 2006 
- Withers, Bob. "The story of the 1970 Marshall Plane Crash."
December 19, 2006 Herald-Dispatch [Huntington]. December 19, 2006
- Drehs, Wayne. "Tragedy litters the sports landscape: Marshall
remains the worst sports-related air disaster" November 13, 2000
- "AIRCRAFT ACCIDENT REPORT." 1972 Apr. 1972. National
Transportation Safety Board. December 18, 2006 
- The Marshall Story, College Football's Greatest
Comeback, Henchard Press, Ltd. 2006 pp.36–37.
- Walsh, David. "Emotions of tragedy drew Lengyel to Marshall."
November 13, 2005 Herald-Dispatch [Huntington]. December 19, 2006
- "Red Dawson helped mold 1971 team." December 19, 2006
Herald-Dispatch [Huntington]. December 19. 2006 .
- Withers, Bob. "Memorial Fountain designed to represent 'upward
growth, immortality, eternality'." December 19, 2006
Herald-Dispatch [Huntington]. December 19, 2006 .
- Wellman, Dave. "Marshall Memorial Bronze unveiled to mix of
emotions." November 12, 2000 Herald-Dispatch [Huntington]. December
19, 2006 .
- Pinkston, Antwon. "Kenova to dedicate crash memorial Monday."
December 10, 2006 Herald-Dispatch [Huntington]. December 11, 2006