Bill Sets Day of Remembrance for Worst US Sports Disaster

Most of Marshall University's football team died in 1970 plane crash in West Virginia
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 16, 2023 3:27 AM CST
State Lawmakers Pass Bill to Remember Worst US Sports Disaster
Marshall players wear a "75" decal on their helmets as they take the field for an NCAA college football game against Middle Tennessee on Nov. 14, 2020, in Huntington, W.Va.   (Sholten Singer/The Herald-Dispatch via AP, File)

A bill has won final legislative approval in West Virginia that would establish an annual day of recognition for the worst sports disaster in US history, a plane crash that killed most of Marshall University's football team. On Nov. 14, 1970, a chartered jet crashed in fog and rain into a hillside upon approach to an airport near Huntington as the team was returning from a game at East Carolina, killing all 75 on board. The victims included 36 football players and 39 school administrators, coaches, fans, spouses, and flight crew. Marshall decided to continue the football program. But for the university and the entire community, it left a huge void. Some who were left off the flight and did not make the trip or lost loved ones spent the next five decades with crippling questions that had no answers.

The bill establishes that Nov. 14 will become a "special memorial day" in remembrance of the crash. Prior to the state Senate’s unanimous vote Wednesday, the chamber held a moment of silence for the crash victims at the request of Upshur County Republican Sen. Bill Hamilton, the AP reports. The House of Delegates passed the bill last month. Cabell County Democratic Sen. Mike Woelfel said he was 17 years old driving in his car in Huntington when news of the crash came on the radio. "Just like winter leads to spring, these bad memories now lead us to, I think, a day of celebration," Woelfel said. "I’m glad that we’re going to honor them for each year in this way from here on out."

Wayne County Democratic Sen. Robert Plymale was 15 at the time and was with friends in Kenova, near the airport. It was raining hard, and he remembered seeing ambulances speeding past the group. Plymale said his mother was a professor at Marshall. Four of the crash victims were students in her class, and Marshall faculty were sent to attend the funerals. Plymale's mother attended a funeral in North Carolina, and her family became close friends with the victim’s family. Plymale said 64 children lost one or both of their parents in the crash. Among them were Dr. Ray Hagley, who was a Marshall team physician, and his wife. They left behind six children who were being babysat by Dan D'Antoni, a 23-year-old assistant with the Marshall basketball program in 1970. D'Antoni is now Marshall's basketball coach.

(More West Virginia stories.)

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