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KPTS premiere part of healing on Wichita State plane crash

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, Oct. 2, 2009, at 12:06 a.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, July 21, 2010, at 10:33 p.m.

After his first look at a documentary about the Oct. 2, 1970, Wichita State University football team plane crash, the thoughts of Dave Lewis — who survived — turned first to his friends.

"I just miss my friends," Lewis said shortly after watching the premiere of the KPTS documentary "Black and Gold: Remembering the WSU Plane Crash" Thursday night.

"This," he said, "was a very fitting tribute."

Lewis, 59, was among the several hundred people who attended the viewing at WSU's Miller Concert Hall.

The documentary features interviews with crash survivors, including Lewis, who visited the crash site in Colorado. It also includes video footage from the crash site, news reports and interviews with the family members of some of the 31 people killed in the crash.

Nine survived the crash, eight of them players. A second plane carrying players and coaches took a different route and landed safely in Logan, Utah, where the Shockers were scheduled to play Utah State the next day.

The documentary will first air on KPTS, Channel 8, at 8 p.m. Thursday.

Jesse Huxman, KPTS director of content, said the idea to do the documentary came up in a brainstorming session. He and co-producers Gabe Juhnke and Stacey Jenkins wanted to tell a story with local interest that made good television. All three had the plane crash in mind when they began tossing out ideas.

On Thursday, Huxman told the audience that the documentary told a tragic story, but it also told "a story of promise and commitment."

The promise: never to forget those who died.

The commitment: to continue the football season and to live life to the fullest, every day.

Howard Johnson, whose son, Ronnie, was killed in the crash, also visited the crash site and was interviewed in the documentary.

"Extremely well-done," he said shortly after the premiere. "I'm just happy to see it and see the reaction from the young men that did get out of the crash.

Thirty-nine years after his son died, he said he continues to heal. The documentary, he said, helps in that process.

"I'm glad that they've done it and are keeping (the memory of the crash victims) alive," he said.

As the names of the crash victims appeared on the screen in the concert hall, the audience applauded as the words read: "Dedicated to their memory."

WSU president Donald Beggs said he thought the program was a tribute not only to those who were killed in the crash, but those who survived.

"I think there's an element of documentation here that goes beyond bits and pieces," he said. "They've done an excellent job, from my perspective, of putting together information to make it a meaningful story for those of us who follow."

Reach Joe Rodriguez at 316-268-6644 or jrodriguez@wichitaeagle.com.

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