College football is hugely important on the American sporting scene, attracting and showcasing the brightest and best future pro footballers, with success enhancing the reputation of institutions they represent. In 1970, West Virginia’s Marshall University at Huntingdon ran the Thundering Herd football team. Most away games were easily reached by road from campus, and that year’s game against East Carolina Pirates was the one-and-only time the footballers travelled by plane. The score at Greenville’s Ficklen Stadium was 17-14 in favor of the home team, so the football squad’s mood on the return flight was subdued.
The aircraft was a chartered twin-engined Southern Airways DC-9 capable of seating 95, though it was not full. Even so, quite a number of local supporters had joined the team for the rare airborne excursion, so Flight 932 was carrying 75 souls.
The weather was not ideal, with controllers reporting rain, fog and ragged cloud in the area of Huntingdon’s Tri-State Airport at Ceredo – conditions that would make a landing tricky but still perfectly feasible.
At 19.34 the crew reported passing Tri-State’s outer runway marker and were given landing clearance. Seconds later, the DC-9 clipped treetops and ploughed into a hillside, bursting into flames and gouging out a charred impact zone 30 m (98 ft) wide by 85 m (280 ft) long. It was a crash described by investigators as ‘unsurvivable’, and instantly became the worst sports-related air disaster in American history.
The entire 37-man Marshall football squad perished, along with eight coaches, 25 prominent Huntingdon citizens (including a city councilor, state legislator and several doctors), four flight crew an one charter company representative. Many of the victims were interred at Spring Hill Cemetery after a mass funeral, some together; classes at Marshall University were cancelled and condolences were received from all over the USA.
When was the Southern Airways Flight 932 – Marshall University Football Team Tragedy: November 14 1970
Where was the Southern Airways Flight 932 – Marshall University Football Team Tragedy: Ceredo, West Virginia, USA
What was the Southern Airways Flight 932 – Marshall University Football Team Tragedy death toll: 75
You should know: The enduring effect of this tragic air crash on the local community may be judged by the fact that victims are still mourned at an annual ceremony on Marshall University’s campus, in addition, the Huntingdon street where Spring Hill Cemetery with its commemorative cenotaph is located was renamed Marshall Memorial Boulevard and Marshall’s Joan C Edwards football stadium has a large bronze memorial. There’s also a memorial fountain and student center on campus, while a plaque was dedicated at the crash site as recently as 2006.