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Marshall Plane Crash 50 Years Ago

Fifty-one years ago Monday, a plane crash claimed the lives of 75 people, including members of the Marshall University football team and the Huntington community. The crash remains a traumatic and difficult event to remember.

To this day, alumni, friends and family of those who died gather in Huntington each year to commemorate the tragedy. A bronze-and-copper fountain with 75 jets of water in memory of the dead is the centerpiece of memorial ceremonies on campus.

What happened?

On November 14, 1970, the Marshall University Thundering Herd football team was on a plane returning home from an East Carolina game. The crash killed all 75 people on board, including the entire team and most of the coaching staff.

Today, the memory of this tragedy is still felt throughout the Huntington community and on the Marshall University campus. Physical markers mark the site of the crash and a ceremony takes place each year to commemorate it.

During this study, we investigated how the community commemorated this time of crisis and its impact on its identity. Using interviews and observations during the 45th anniversary ceremony, we uncovered insights into how memorials function within a community.

Among the individuals interviewed were former Marshall players who were spared from the crash, as well as families of those who died in the accident. They also shared their stories with the researchers, allowing them to explore how the crash affected their lives.

How the crash happened

The crash was a tragic event that left an indelible mark on the hearts of many. It affected the community, the school and even some of the students.

A Southern Airways DC-9 airliner carrying the Marshall University football team, coaches and Huntington residents crashed in a hillside just short of Tri-State Airport near Ceredo. All 75 people aboard died.

After the crash, the National Transportation Safety Board investigated the cause of the accident. They found that the plane was descending too low.

They also concluded that the crew’s altimeters reported incorrect readings. This could have been caused by a malfunction in the altimeter.

In West Virginia, the crash is still remembered each November 14th. The state legislature is now considering legislation that would make the day “Marshall University Airplane Crash Day.”

What happened to the survivors

In the days following the crash, many Marshall students went through the grieving process. For some, the event was a turning point in their lives.

The crash was also a catalyst for the growth of Marshall’s athletic program. In the years that followed, the Thundering Herd became a powerhouse, breaking the NCAA’s record for wins in a season and setting records for sacks, interceptions and touchdowns.

Ed Carter, an offensive lineman, survived the crash because he was still dealing with the death of his father two weeks before. He was so upset that he decided not to travel with the team that weekend.

Foley remained quiet for years, but he recently began speaking about his feelings to others. He hopes to inspire others to remember the crash and never forget those who died. He said it was a difficult experience but one that ultimately shaped him and changed his life. He plans to continue telling the story until his dying day.

What happened to the school

The Marshall plane crash was one of the biggest tragedies in college football history. Not only did it kill the entire football team, but it killed school officials, community leaders and boosters.

It also marked a point of inflection in the school’s push for racial integration. In the early 1970s, Blacks made up about 3 percent of a student body that was overwhelmingly White.

In his book, We Are Marshall: The Battle to Integrate Black Students at Marshall University (2003), historian Craig Greenlee says the school was “ahead of the curve” in integrating its football program. Its enlightened recruiting strategy, which drew Blacks to a predominantly White campus, put Marshall among the few schools in the nation that were ready to recruit Black players.

For Dennis Foley of Pickerington, the crash will always haunt him. But he has come to see the silver linings of that tragedy. He now works as a lawyer for a law firm in Raleigh and is married to the daughter of Red Dawson, a former Marshall player who was on the team that crashed.


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