Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in The Eagle on Sept. 27, 1980.
It was a serene, early autumn Friday 10 years ago. Oct. 2, 1970.
At approximately 2 p.m., with the beautiful mountains of Colorado as a backdrop, it became anything but.
A chartered Martin 404 aircraft, carrying Wichita State University’s best football players, its head coach, its athletic director and several other WSU personnel and boosters, crashed into the majestic mountainside near the Loveland Basin ski area, eight miles west of Silver Plume.
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Twenty-nine people were killed at the site. Two more died later in hospitals.
A second charter flight landed on schedule in Logan, Utah, where the Shockers were to meet Utah State University the next day.
That game was cancelled. And the country mourned.
Slowly, Wichita State picked up the pieces. The remaining players voted not to forgo the rest of the season. They began the “second season” at the University of Arkansas, where they were greeted with kindness and sympathy by the fans.
The Razorback football team, however, clubbed WSU 62-0.
The Shockers, 0-3 before the crash, lost all six they played afterwards.
But even though their record was 0-9 in 1970, in their hearts they finished 9-0.
Thursday marks the 10-year anniversary of the crash. Wichita State’s football program still is trying to right itself. The current Shockers were in grade school when the tragedy occurred.
“It would be great to get this program going,” said WSU defensive coordinator Ron Corradini. “But I think that staff probably would have.”
Corradini knew former Head Coach Ben Wilson, who perished in the crash. Corradini was a player at Athens High in Oho when Wilson coached at rival Welston.
Nine people survived the crash. Eight of them were WSU football players. The other was the plane’s co-pilot.
The surviving players were Mike Bruce, John Hoheisal, Randy Jackson, Glenn Kostal, Davis Lewis, Keith Morrison, Bob Renner and Rick Stephens. The suriving co-pilot was Ronald Skipper.
Hoheisel, Jackson and Stephens live in Wichita. Bruce is in Plano, Texas. Kostal is Louisville. Lewis is Monahans, Texas, Morrison in San Antonio and Renner in South Padre Island, Texas.
Stephens, then a linemen for WSU, now goes by Richard. “I’m 10 years older,” he said.
He is an assistant football coach and teacher at East High in Wichita. He works mostly with the Aces’ sophomore team.
After the crash, Stephens spent six weeks in Wesley Medical Center, recuperating from fractures of both legs, a dislocated hip, a badly injured shoulder and a cracked sternum.
You learn to accept things in life,” he said.
Stephens said he had a premonition that something was wrong before anyone else on the airplane, except perhaps those flying the craft.
“I went into the cockpit to talk to the pilot,” he said. They were pretty calm in there. As I started out I felt us starting to turn. The next thing I remember I was lying on the ground unconscious.”
Apparently, the plane was flying so low in a valley between mountains that it could not pick up enough steam to get out. Stephens said the pilot tried to turn the plane around but couldn’t make it.
“When I was in the cockpit they had maps out, I guess trying to figure out the best way to get over the mountains,” said Stephens.”Whoever had the plane under control at the last minute made it so that we crashed with the nose of the plane up instead of making impact with the nose down. That saved the rest of our lives.
“My main concern after the crash was to try and seek security,”Stephens said. “There wasn’t anything I could do to aid anybody else. At least I was outside of the plane.”
Jackson, whose 212 yards gained against Tulsa in 1969 stands as a WSU record, is a coach at Robinson Junior High in Wichita. He was one of several Shockers to return to the playing field after the crash and was later drafted by the pros (Buffalo Bills).
“The plane crash wasn’t just a tragedy for WSU, but for the town itself,” he said. “These 10 years really have passed by fast. I very seldom think of that day, unless someone starts talking to me about it. It’s not as difficult to live with now as it was the first few years after it happened.”
Jackson was sitting next to close friend Gene Robinson on the plane. Jackson had the outside seat.
“What it all came down to is this,” said Jackson. “It just wasn’t my time to go. I guess I was just blessed in that way. When something like that happens, you want to put it in the past. Then again, you don’t want to forget the people who were involved. Sometimes it’s hard to separate the two.”
Bob Seaman, an assistant under Wilson at the time of the crash, was named head coach as the Shockers began their “Second Season.”
“I’ve always been a fatalist,” said Seaman, who was the head coach at WSU for three seasons and now serves in the same capacity at Emporia State. “I’ve always believed that what will happen is going to happen. I’ve always had that philosophy, but it became stronger after the plane crash. No matter how hard you try to alter some situations, you’ve got to learn to live with them.
Normally, Seaman would have been on the ill-fated charter. This particular flight, however, he gave up his seat to Wilson’s wife, Helen.
“I was the offensive coordinator and Ben and I used to always spend time on the plane talking about strategy,” said Seaman. “I’m tremendously proud of our ‘Second Season.’ A lot of kids were put into a difficult situation.”