‘All I could see were green trees, and no blue sky.’ 50 years later, Aggies and Shockers alike remember deadly Wichita State plane crash

Membrs of the 1970 Wichita State University Shockers football team stand around a plaque for their teammates who died in an airplane crash as the survivors visit the crash site near Loveland Pass Monday, July 27, 2020, west of Silver Plume, Colo. Wreckage from the plane, which was one of two being used to take the Shockers to play a football game against Utah State University in Logan, Utah, is still scattered on the mountain top nearly 50 years after the crash close to the Eisenhower Tunnel. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

LOGAN, Utah  Rick Stephens, sitting over the left wing of the Martin 404 chartered aircraft carrying players and supporters of Wichita State’s football team, knew something was amiss moments after taking off from Denver’s Stapleton International Airport.

“Most of the players were kind of dozing off,” Stephens recalled. “I was sitting by Jack Vetter, one of the kids I was closest to, and I looked out through the window. I could see that there were old mines and old vehicles above us, and we were quite a bit below the tops of the mountains.”

Concerned by this fact, Stephens got up to go to the cockpit, which was not an unusual thing to do at the time, to find out what was going on.

“I decided to get up out of curiosity, and basically that was the move and fate that saved my life,” Stephens said. “I got to the cockpit and could see that the pilots were very concerned and urgently looking at a topographical map. One said to the other – I don’t remember whom – ‘Can we make it over there, at that pass?’ He said, ‘No. That’s 14,000 feet,’ and we were sitting at 10 or 11,000. I decided at that point, well, I don’t know if I decided, but the instinct occurred to me that I should get away from the front of the aircraft. As I looked out the window as I turned to leave, all I could see were green trees, and no blue sky.”

On Oct. 2, 1970, while Wichita State’s football team was flying to Logan for a game the next day against the Aggies, one of the team’s two planes crashed on Mount Trelease, near Silver Plume, Colo. Twenty-nine people died at the scene, and two more died later from their injuries.

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the plane crash. To commemorate the anniversary, and honor those who lost their lives and those affected by the accident, we stepped back in time and revisited that fateful day, as told by crash survivors, WSU players who made it safely to Logan, players from Utah State, children who were orphaned and a freshman player who was part of the Shockers’ “second season.”

– Leaving Wichita –

A pair of twin-engine Martin 404 planes left Wichita, Kan., on a picture-perfect Autumn morning. The team nicknamed its planes based on its school colors. The “Gold Plane” carried the first-string players, head coach, boosters and other guests, while the “Black Plane” flew the reserves and other coaches.

“That morning was one of the happiest days of my life,” said Glenn Kostal, then a 20-year old linebacker from Chicago, who was on the Gold Plane. “By 3 o’clock in the afternoon, it changed forever.”

Ed Plopa, a sophomore wide receiver on the 1970 team, was on the Black Plane and recalls landing safely in Denver and enjoying the time with his teammates as they waited to get back on their respective planes and head to Logan.

“It was a glorious day when we ended up landing at Stapleton Airport,” Plopa said. “Back then, it was kind of like, whatever was going on in your head was going on in your head, and I didn’t pay attention to a lot of things as far as details were concerned. We were standing on the outside of the hangar, not quite on the tarmac, but right at the edge of the hanger and I was with my roommate and we were just cutting each other up on different jokes or whatever. I made a joke about his tie – he had on a brownish, goldish knit-looking tie.”

John Yeros, a native of Denver, was also a wide receiver for the Shockers. Like Plopa, he was on Black Plane.

“My father owned a restaurant across the street from the old Stapleton Airport,” Yeros said. “We landed in Denver and refueled. We had about an hour to walk around and I went and found a pay phone. I could see my dad’s restaurant across the street, so I tried to call over there. I missed him – he had gone to the bank – and I tried to call my mom, but missed her, too.”

Dave Lewis was a defensive end that liked to sit in the very back of the plane. He was on the Gold Plane.

“The pilot said he was going to go get some scenic maps so that we could view the scenery over the Continental Divide,” Lewis said.

– Preparing For The Shockers –

In the 1969 season opener, Utah State lost at Wichita State, 17-7, at Cessna Stadium. Undoubtedly, it was a huge upset, and it was also the first victory for Ben Wilson in his debut as head coach of the Shockers.

After beating the Aggies, Wilson was carried off the field by his players.

“I was playing tackle at the time and Phil Olsen, Merlin Olsen’s brother, was on the Utah State team, and I was lined up against him,” Stephens said. “I knew this guy was enormous and there was kind of a funny, odd little event, where I cleared my throat and spit. I was going to spit on the ground, but I spit right on his arm, and then I said, ‘Oh, geez, this guy’s mad.’ But, he was so tuned in to what he was supposed to be doing. I was thankful that he didn’t see me spit on his arm.”

The Aggies were certainly looking for revenge the following year. Coming off back-to-back wins against Bowling Green (33-14) and at Wyoming (42-29), Utah State was looking to go to 3-1 on the season with a victory over Wichita State on Saturday, Oct. 3.

Sitting in Utah State offensive coordinator Garth Hall’s office were starting quarterback Tony Adams and his backup, Mickey Doyle.

We were sitting in the office going through the game plan when the phone rang,” Adams said. “Nobody else was there, just the three of us, and we were the first three to find out about the crash, because they didn’t know how to get a hold of the athletic director. He wasn’t in his office, so they called the football office, and we were there going through the game plan.

“I looked at Garth and he had that, ‘You’re kidding,’ facial expression, where you know something happened, you just don’t know what. When he hung up, he just looked at us and said, ‘Wichita State crashed.’ We were speechless, and you just assumed they were all on one plane. We didn’t know there were two planes, so we sat there for a while and thought about every player and the coaches. It affected everybody.”

– Separate Flight Paths –

After the stop in Denver, the Black Plane with the reserves headed north toward Logan. The Gold Plane with the starters and equipment took a different path, the pilots taking a scenic path through the mountains.

The original flight plan was a northbound departure from Denver, on established airways, via Laramie, Wyo. The change in routing was for sightseeing purposes only, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) later stated in a report of its findings.

The Gold Plane’s co-pilot, Ron Skipper, told the other plane’s crew they were intending to take a different route.

“It’s a beautiful day today,” Dan Crocker, the pilot, reportedly told the passengers. “I’ll get to give the kids a good look at the mountains.”

The Gold Plane flew through Clear Creek Valley, and the pilots pointed out various peaks and landmarks to the passengers.

“We took off from Denver and Johnny Taylor, who survived the crash, but later died at Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas, was sitting by the window next to me,” Kostal said. “He made a comment that if he had his .22, he could probably take out the rabbits down there. That’s how the elevation of the mountain was kind of keeping pace with the ability of the plane to climb.”

After rounding the valley’s corner by Mount Sniktau and with the Continental Divide directly ahead, the pilots realized they were now inside a box canyon with no room to get out.

In an attempt to gain altitude, Skipper initiated a 45-degree turn to the right. He was rolling out of the turn when Crocker all of a sudden yelled, “I’ve got the airplane,” and initiated a sharp left bank.

Soon after, the aircraft began to vibrate. Crocker put the nose of the aircraft down, and shortly thereafter Flight N464M slammed into the side of Mount Trelease around 1 p.m., and about 40 miles west of Denver. The elevation of the site is 10,750 feet. The NTSB estimated the plane exceeded its takeoff weight limitation by around 5,165 pounds.

“I knew something was wrong when he did a hard bank to the right and then he went back to the left,” Lewis said. “A few seconds after that, I was looking out the cockpit from the very back row and I saw the hit, the immediate impact, and then I don’t know what happened. Apparently, I had my foot trapped in one of those metal foot rests they used to have on planes on the seat in front of you. I ended up twisting my leg and started flying, and I took the chair with me.”

The crash site is about a 575-mile drive from Wichita and is above I-70 on the north side of the highway, sitting on public land in the Arapaho National Forest.

– News Reaches Logan –

It was shortly after lunch when Utah State center Al Faccinto, better known as “Big Al,” and a few of his Aggie teammates learned that the Wichita State plane had crashed.

The information was vague, but it left them in disbelief.

“We were like, ‘What are you talking about? How could this be? We are playing them tomorrow,’” said Faccinto, a junior at the time. “Still, at this time, we didn’t know if it was one or two planes, but I remember, and this has stuck with me for 50 years, I remember saying to myself, ‘All of those players that I’ve been studying for the last week, learning their moves, learning how to block them and were to go at them,’ you study these players and you become close to them.

“You may never meet them, but you’ll meet them on the gridiron, and still know them in a football sense. I could not escape that from my mind and my heart. Dead? I still think about them, the guys who I was going to go up against. I think about them, I think about their families, and it has just stuck with me to this day.”

Kent Baer was in his sophomore season at Utah State in 1970. The Cache Valley native was watching his alma mater, Sky View High School, play when he learned of the crash.

“I don’t remember who it was, but somebody came up to me and told me,” Baer said. “They didn’t really know exactly what happened, but said as many members of the team should go to the airport. We were there when the other plane landed. We were just there to lend any support that we could, which was tough.”

– Thrown From The Plane –

On his way back to his seat after making the trek to the cockpit, Stephens was knocked to the floor.

“The plane took a sharp bank to the right and then another one to the left,” Stephens said. “I fell to the floor and could feel what I believe turned out to be the wings clipping trees. At that point, I was knocked unconscious. The next thing I know, I’m outside of the airplane, and how I got there, I have no idea. I laid there for I don’t know how long, then tried to get up after spitting out broken teeth and gravel, and so forth. It was such a surreal situation that my mind, it was just disbelief, but you come fairly quickly to realize that it was a serious, serious accident.”

Thrown about 20 yards in front of the plane, Stephens was laying on the side of the mountain with double compound fracture in his lower right leg, a dislocated right hip and cracked sternum, not to mention numerous cuts and bruises.

“My injuries, although serious, were not life-threatening,” Stephens said. “There were three construction workers, who were working on the Eisenhower Tunnel, came upon the scene, and they saw me. These guys basically saved my life. Had I remained where I was, I don’t know that I would’ve made it after the plane caught fire and exploded. They carried me down the mountain – if  you have never been to the site, for an ordinary person, it’s a pretty grueling climb.

“I will say this about the pilots, however incompetent they were, they managed to get the angle of the impact up, so that the nose did not hit first. But it was able to come in at somewhat of a belly landing, and had they not done that, I don’t think any of us would’ve survived.”

– Climbing Out –

Sitting in his aisle seat, Kostal could feel the wings being torn from the plane as it crashed through the trees.

“For me, it was just like cutting the cables in an elevator and down we went,” Kostal said. “It was just an incredible impact. I don’t think I passed out or blacked out, but it was totally black. I was buried up to my neck in debris, and just really, sitting in shock. Mike Bruce, who was sitting in the seat in front of me, said, ‘Let’s get the hell out of here before it blows up.’

“He had noticed that right behind me in the back, a fire was starting, and as luck would have it, we were in the back and didn’t have our seatbelts fastened, and that’s why we hit the seats in front of us and stayed in the back of the plane. A lot of people survived, but were trapped in their seats. Those seats were torn up and flew to the front.”

Some tree limbs had fallen through the fuselage, which allowed some survivors, like Kostal, to climb out onto the roof of the plane and jump off.

“We wanted to get away from the crash site, because fuel was all over the place,” Kostal said. “I looked over and there was Johnny Taylor standing there, just absolutely nothing wrong with him. I had a broken leg and Dave had a knee the size of a watermelon. We looked at Johnny and he was fine, then all of a sudden he was standing in a stream of aviation fuel and it ignited. He just went poof, but had the presence of mind to dive into a pile of snow that was there and rolled. When we got to him, he didn’t look as bad as what it was. It was like a really bad sunburn, but he was hurting.”

According to Lewis, Bruce saved his life by pushing him out of the plane.

“I was about 250 pounds then and I don’t know what Mike weighed, but he didn’t weigh as much as I did, and he actually pushed me out of the plane,” Lewis said. “My leg was as big as a basketball and my foot was hanging over to my left side, so I tore it up pretty badly.”

According to reports in the Wichita newspaper published on Oct. 3, 1970, the fuel tanks exploded as a group of survivors was about halfway down the mountain. Survivor Bob Renner had tried to save his friends and left reluctantly when his teammate Jack Vetter told him, “Bobby, I’m burning. Get out of here!”

Left wearing only his tie and a pair of torn undershorts after the crash, his knee swollen to the size of a basketball, Lewis scooted on his rear end down the mountain to U.S. Route 6, where workers were constructing the Eisenhower Tunnel.

“Everybody was in shock and no one was comprehending anything,” Lewis said. “I know I wasn’t. I felt like it was a dream, that this couldn’t be happening. I scooted down the mountain on my butt, and I didn’t have any clothes on except a stupid tie. All of my clothes were ripped up by the trees – going through the trees – after the plane broke in half.”

– The Black Plane Arrives 

While in Denver, Stephens had asked one of his teammates, Kelly Cook, to join him on the Gold Plane since there were open seats. Cook declined the invitation, and remained on the Black Plane.

“He had said to me, ‘Why don’t you get on the Gold Plane? There are a few extra seats,’” Cook said. “It was the weirdest thing, because I just said, ‘Nope. When I make the first team, I’ll get on that plane, but until then, I’ll stay where I am.’ I didn’t earn the spot, so I’m not going to ride on the Gold Plane.

As we were landing in Logan, the airport we were flying into was like a big cow pasture, and it looked like the control tower was a deer stand. There were a few guys that thought we must be in the wrong place.”

Added Plopa: “We take off from Denver and the next thing I know, we’re landing in Logan. I was sitting on the left wing and looking out across the tarmac and I saw a whole bunch of TV reporters with their vehicles. My only thought was that they were really covering this game to have that many people out there. A lot of it after that became a blur.”

Upon arrival, the travel party on the Black Plane was asked to remain seated. Assistant coach and offensive coordinator Bob Seaman was asked to de-board the plane and returned shortly thereafter and took roll.

Seaman then informed the rest of the players and coaches on the Black Plane of the crash.

“It didn’t seem possible. We had been laughing and joking together in Denver together, and then that happened. It really took a while to process,” Cook said. “At the time, you sort of think, ‘Well, I’m going to get over this,’ but here it is 50 years later and I probably think more about it now than I did all that time in between. When I gave my life to Christ in Korea when I was stationed over there in 1991, from then on, it’s been a little easier. I feel like they were in a good place.”

– Reeves’ Heroics 

Directly after the crash, WSU athletic trainer Tom Reeves was able to rescue a few of the football players. He and another player, John Taylor, passed away after receiving medical attention for their injuries. Reeves was a WSU alumnus, having received his bachelor’s degree in education in 1962.

Following the tragedy, many scholarships were created honoring players and staff who died in the crash. Established by family and friends, the Thomas A. Reeves Memorial Scholarship commemorates Reeves and the life he left too soon.

“My knee looked like a basketball and I was throwing up blood,” Lewis said. “Tom, our trainer, was laying on the ground and he said, despite how injured he was, ‘Dave, we have got to get you down the mountain. Your leg is hurt bad.’ Tom was truly a great and heroic man.”

– Almost A Shocker 

The travel party on the Black Plane was taken to the Baugh Motel, where they stayed the night before returning to Wichita the following morning via a commercial flight out of Salt Lake City.

“They got us off the plane and onto a bus and told us not to talk to anybody,” Yeros said. “We didn’t speak to any of the press, just got on the bus and went to the motor lodge, where it had two floors and all of the rooms’ doors opened directly outside. The upper level had a concrete pad with a metal railing and you’d go down the steps to the parking lot. We got there and hung around, and some of the Utah State players came over, but we were still in shock.”

One of the Aggies that showed up was senior wide receiver Wes Garnett, a native of Pittsburg, Pa. After graduating from high school in 1966, Garnett had planned on going to Notre Dame, but two star players from Missouri, Johnny Roland and Frances Pay, convinced him to join them in Columbia.

“I listened to that rhetoric and I changed my mind,” Garnett said. “Two weeks after that, I went to Missouri for summer employment before school started, only to find out once football started in the fall, my grades were not good enough for me to get into the University of Missouri.”

So, Garnett enrolled at Joplin Junior College, where he played for one season before his head coach there left to become a coach at Wichita State. Garnett followed him there, where he continued to rehab his knee following surgery.

“When I became eligible to play, I got a call from (Utah State head coach) Chuck Mills, who was familiar with me from my high school days in Pittsburgh,” Garnett said. “We talked for a while and I made the decision to go to Utah State as opposed to staying at Wichita State.”

Garnett showed up at the Baugh Motel on the evening of Oct. 2, 1970, unbeknownst to him that the Gold Plane had crashed.

“I knew a vast majority of those players from Wichita State and in fact, the day the crash happened, my girlfriend, who is now my wife, and I went down to the motel to see them,” Garnett said. “When we arrived at the Baugh Motel, there were players on the balcony out front crying. Me not knowing what had occurred, I’m making a joke, ‘You guys are crying because we’re going to kick your ass tomorrow,’ only to find out that there had been this plane crash.

“I was devastated.”

– Wee Hours Of The Morning 

Utah State’s players met the Wichita State players at the Baugh Motel on the morning they were to leave to return home. What the Aggie players did for them that morning still resonates today.

“It was pretty early in the morning and we had to be in the hotel dining room, or whatever it was, and when I walked in the whole Utah State team was in there,” Cook said. “Those guys had to get up real early to be there, and I have always remembered that.”

Not only did the Aggies offer whatever emotional support they could give, but they provided the Shockers with sack lunches to take with them on the bus ride to Salt Lake City.

“None of us slept,” Faccinto said. “We just tried to talk to them and console them. It was tough on me, because what do you say? We were with them, we talked to them, but it wasn’t an easy talk.”

The bus ride to Salt Lake City did not go off without a hitch. In fact, the bus broke down en route to the airport.

“Halfway between Salt Lake and Logan, the bus broke down,” Yeros said. “Luckily, they were able to radio another bus going the other direction and it turned around. We unloaded one bus and got on the other. They actually held the flight for us. The bus drove right out on the tarmac next to the plane, and we got on the plane.”

– Brief Memorial Service 

At 1:30 p.m. – the time originally scheduled for the game between the Aggies and Shockers – on Saturday, Oct. 3, members of the Utah State varsity and freshman teams held a memorial service at Romney Stadium.

“As you can imagine, after everything we had gone through up to that point, we were supposed to be playing a game that day,” said Adams, who got his private pilot’s license during his senior year at Utah State. “That probably resonates more than anything, all of us – their team and our team – should have been on the field playing. That’s probably what I thought about the most. It’s nothing that we can ever get back.”

Approximately 300 people attended the brief ceremony, which included the placing of a black and gold wreath on the 50-yard line. The wreath was carried from the end zone, and at the 45-yard line, members of the sponsoring Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity read a tribute.

Aggie team captains Dale Washburn, Bill Dunstan and John Forzani carried the wreath to the 50-yard line. There was a moment of silence and taps were played. The wreath remained on the midfield stripe through Sunday.

– Orphaned 

More than 20 children lost a parent in the plane crash, including 13 that were orphaned losing both parents.

Of those 13 that were orphaned, seven – one boy and six girls – came from the family of Raymond and Yvonne King. Raymond was a state representative in the Kansas Legislature and supporter of Wichita State athletics.

In fact, he and his wife had traveled to Logan in 1968 to see the Aggies and Shockers play football. Former neighbors of theirs in Kansas had moved to Cache Valley, so they used that as an opportunity to go visit them.

“Here it was two years later and a couple that had won the right to go, or were supposed to go on the trip in 1970, backed out at the last minute, so Wichita State called my parents and said, ‘ Two seats came open, would you like to make this trip to Utah?’” said Gary King, who was 16 years old when his parents died in the crash. “My parents said, ‘Sure, it would be great to go out to see this couple and visit them,’ so they arranged for a young couple to stay with us six kids – my older sister was in college at the time.”

Gary had planned on going to his high school’s road football game that night, but as he was getting ready to go home after school, he overheard somebody making a comment about Wichita State.

“In my mind, I thought they were making some derogatory comment about the football team, because the football team really wasn’t very good,” Gary said. “I looked at them and said, ‘What did you say?’ They said, ‘There was a plane crash with Wichita State.’”

Riding home as fast as he could, Gary was met with five or six cars already parked at the house.

“I knew something was up,” he recalled.

Since news traveled slower in the 1970s, and the Black Plane was still making its way to Logan, Gary and his siblings did not know which plane their parents were on.

“It was later that evening where it was pretty certain they had died in the crash, then came the thoughts of like,’ What now? Are me and my sisters going to be split up and go to different places and not be together?’” Gary said. “It’s tragic enough losing your parents and the grief that goes with that, but the uncertainty of the future and all that was a key part of it.”

Gary and his siblings did not have to leave their house. His older sister, Mary Lynne, dropped out of college and returned home to help before marrying her high school sweetheart and moving away. Different people would come in and stay with the King siblings until the youngest was a senior in high school.

That’s when they sold the house and the youngest sibling moved in with another sibling to finish off her prep schooling.

One thing is certain, through this tragedy and the loss of their parents, the King siblings formed a strong bond that is as strong today – if not stronger – as it was back then.

“The fundamental part of our story is the greatness of our family’s heritage, rooted in faith and believing in God, and his son, Jesus Christ,” Gary said. “We’re very thankful for that Christian heritage that we had, and growing up with that. That was fundamentally a key part of us being able to stay together and pull together, and care for each other. As a 16-year-old, I had my moments of feeling very sorry for myself and, ‘Why me? Why my parents? Why did this happen to our family? Why this and why that?’

“But, for the most part, what really helped me was turning my focus from my own grief and my own self, and focusing on others like my sisters and how I could help and support them, especially my younger sisters, who really didn’t have an understating of what had taken place.”

At the time of the crash, Gary’s younger sisters included Terri (13), Lori (10), Lisa (7), Juli (6) and Dina (4).

Today, the legacy of Raymond and Yvonne King live on through their children, their 21 grandchildren and a bunch of great-grandchildren.

“There is the victim and there is the victor role that people can play in their lives,” Gary pointed out. “We could have played the victim card our whole lives and felt sorry for ourselves forever, but the idea is we went from victim to victory, and that victory has come because of that Christian faith that we stood on. It has helped us not only individually, but as a family, and that is why we are really close and tied together.”

– Losing Both Parents At Age 10 

Elizabeth (Wilson) Winterbone was 10 years old at the time of the crash. She was one of two children of head coach Ben Wilson and his wife, Helen.

“It was unusual for my mom to travel with the team and I am not sure why she had decided to go this time,” Winterbone said. “Perhaps because of the other women who were going along, like boosters’ wives. I had arranged to spend the night with a friend, so after school I was at her home with her. I did not know about the crash and later learned that family friends had decided to shield me from the news until they knew exactly what had happened.

“News traveled more slowly back then and some people had survived, so they waited before breaking the news to me. That evening, my mom’s friend came to get me and took me to her quiet home. I had no idea what was going on and I just felt annoyed that my fun weekend plans were upended. The next morning she sat me down and gently told me there had been a crash and that my parents would not be coming home.”

Winterbone said the following days were a blur for her, as one can expect. After all, her whole world was just turned upside down. However, she does remember visiting her school and telling all of her friends goodbye, attending the memorial service at Cessna Stadium and then attending a memorial service in Dover, Ohio, her father’s hometown.

“That took place just 10 days after the crash, so my brother and I left Wichita in a really short time and it was many years before I returned,” she said.

Winterbone and her brother moved to Maryland, where they would live with family members they had only met a few times. When she was 13 years old, her guardianship was changed to an uncle in California, who was newly married.

“There was a lot of upheaval, living with people I didn’t know and just trying to fit in,” Winterbone said. “The people around me did the best they could, but we know so much more now about trauma survivors and the need to talk. It was many years later when I finally had someone who asked me to tell my stories over and over, and that was when I really started to heal.”

As difficult as losing both of her parents at such a young age was for her, Winterbone has turned it into a positive.

“I have learned to adapt to unfamiliar situations and slowly learned to speak up for myself,” she said. “I learned that grieving children tend to feel very isolated as other kids shy away from the subject, so I try hard to be understanding when I encounter someone struggling. You just never know what they are working to overcome. I moved back to Wichita in 2005 and that was a big step in being able to heal. To be able to attend the annual memorial services and get to know the other children who lost parents has been an enormous help. The city of Wichita shares in my grief and that knowledge has really buoyed me up. I got my master’s degree from WSU, and that really felt like closing a circle. I’m so grateful for that opportunity.

“I feel really lucky to have had the solid, happy childhood that my parents gave me,” Winterbone added. “While I got knocked out of my safe home at a young age and struggled for a long time to feel like I belonged anywhere, I truly believe that the firm foundation of love and acceptance given to me when I was little never went away. Because of their legacy of deep love, I was eventually able to find my way back to that safe place in my heart. I feel that I am now able to live a high-quality life, not in spite of the tragedy, but because of it.”

– The Second Season 

With the loss of so many starters, three options were given to the remaining members of the 1970 Wichita State football team, including the freshmen – who were not eligible to play in varsity games back then – of what they wanted to do the remainder of the season.

Seaman had now taken over as head coach of the Shockers and he called a team meeting to decide the future of the program – within a week after the crash.

Option 1: Cancel the rest of the season and resume the fall of 1971, and they would retain their years of eligibility they would lose in 1970.

Option 2: Close down the program completely and transfer to other schools and play immediately without losing any eligibility.

Option 3: Resume the season.

“From what I remember, the vote, which needed very little discussion – just a few minutes – was quick and easy,” said John Potts, a freshman in 1970. “We voted 87-1 to resume the season immediately. It was important to us that we not quit in the face of this tragedy, but that we continue on to honor those who we lost because they would have wanted us to continue on and work to complete what they had started at WSU. We knew it would be a very difficult process, but we were willing to take on the challenge.”

At the time of the crash, Potts was back in Wichita preparing for a junior varsity game.

“I was sitting on a training table getting my ankles taped when our assistant AD, Dorothy Harmon, came into the room,” Potts said. “Just her presence in the locker room indicated there was a serious problem. She calmly informed us of the tragedy. She did not know of too many facts because conflicting reports on survivors were not substantiated yet. We were told one of the planes went down, but at that time did not know which one. We were given updates throughout the rest of the day. Bill Moore, a freshman tight end had a varsity roster and was tracking the survivors and those who perished as the news came in slowly. He still has that roster in his possession today.”

Wichita State opened its second season at nationally-ranked Arkansas, which went on to win 62-0. But the result, or final score, does not matter.

“We came out for warmups and got a standing ovation,” Yeros said. “We went in after warmups and got a standing ovation. We came out for the game and got a standing ovation. We leave for halftime and get a standing ovation. At the end of the game, the score is 62-0 and the people are still there.”

Added Potts: “Playing Arkansas was a moment in our lives we all cherish. The people of Little Rock were unbelievable. The day before our game we stayed in a hotel in downtown Little Rock. As we walked the streets, so many of them would come up to us with tears in their eyes, to comfort us and tell us how proud they were that we were moving on after such a tragedy. My last game in high school I played in front of 2,500 people. I walked onto Memorial Stadium to a standing ovation that seemed to last for several minutes and a heartwarming crowd of 48,000.

“I actually kicked off to start the game and put WSU back into action. Every play and yard of the game we gained, the Razorback crowd cheered for us. While the scoreboard indicated a 62-0 victory for the No. 9 Razorbacks, the moment WSU stepped onto War Memorial Field, we won a much bigger game of life. For us it was a huge victory.”

Indeed, it was.

“There was nobody around for us,” Yeros said. “There were no grief counselors, sedatives or anything of that nature for us. We were on our own. We did what we thought was right and started to live again. In the Greek religion, which I am, when someone passes, it’s always said, ‘May their memory be eternal and may the person that passed live his life through you for the remainder.’

“That always stuck with me in what we did. We allowed their lives to be lived through ours for the rest of that year, and from then on. Maybe even still today.”

– Crash Victims 

Players: Marvin Brown, 19, sophomore tailback; Don Christian, 20, junior defensive back; John Duren, 19, sophomore end; Ron Johnson, 21, senior safety; Randy Kiesau, 20, junior defensive back; Mal Kimmel, 21, senior center; Carl Krueger, 19, sophomore tackle; Steve Moore, 21, senior linebacker; Tom Owen, 20, junior running back; Gene Robinson, 21, junior end; Tom Shedden, 20, junior tackle; Richard Stines, 19, sophomore guard; John Taylor, 21, senior cornerback; Jack Vetter, 21, senior tackle.

“I remember my buddy Donnie (Christian),” Lewis said. “When things started looking dangerous or like, ‘What the hell are we doing,’ he turned around and looked at me. That was the last time I ever saw him. He just turned and looked at me, and he knew something was up. We shared that bond.”

Staff and boosters: Bert Katzenmeyer, 52, athletics director; Marian Katzenmeyer, 52, wife of AD; Ben Wilson, 44, head coach; Helen Wilson, 44, wife of head coach; Tom Reeves, 31, team trainer; Marty Harrison, 19, team manager; Carl Fahrbach, 50, dean of admissions; Floyd Farmer, 35, ticket manager; Ray Coleman, 45, chairman of Shocker Club; Maxine Coleman, 43, wife of chairman; John Grooms, 42, won membership drive; Etta Mae Grooms, 38, won membership drive; State Rep. Ray King, 48, R-Hesston; Yvonne King, 41, wife of state representative.

Crew: Dan Crocker, 27, pilot; Judy Dunn, 39, flight attendant; Judy Lane, 28, flight attendant.

– Crash Survivors 

Mike Bruce; John Hoheisel; Randy Jackson; Glenn Kostal; Dave Lewis; Keith Morrison; Bob Renner; Rick Stephens; co-pilot Ronald Skipper.

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1 Comment

  • Yorgus October 3, 2020 at 8:42 pm Reply

    I was a sophomore at USU in 1970. Thank you for this write-up of the events.

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