Photo courtesy of Marshall athletics

Nov. 14, 1970. 

That was the day. 

It’s been 50 years. But we still remember the lives lost on that day in the deadly plane crash that held the Marshall Thundering Herd football team. 

Today’s Thundering Herd is ranked 16th in the country, and are off to a blistering 6-0 start. Many campaigned for ESPN’s College Gameday to air from Huntington, WV as the Herd take on Middle Tennessee this Saturday afternoon. The show eventually decided to air from The Master’s in Augusta, GA. 

50 years to the date, the Herd will be back on the field to face the Blue Raiders in Huntington. As that gets set to kick Saturday afternoon, we wanted to reflect on what happened back in 1970 the best we could — on what is the 50th anniversary of this horrific event. 

A Series Of Events 

After a tough 17-14 defeat earlier that day to the East Carolina Pirates, the Thundering Herd boarded their only flight of the season at nearby Kinston Regional Jetport in Kinston, North Carolina. 75 people were aboard Southern Airways Flight 932 when the plane crashed.

None were left alive.

The plane consisted of 37 members of the team, eight coaches and 25 boosters, including the athletic director and radio announcer. Also lost were five members of the flight crew.

The plane experienced a normal flight pattern and no problems in the air on the way back home, but encountered rain, fog, and smoke from a nearby factory. This created visual problems when the pilots prepared to land.

The crew was given clearance to land on Runway 11 as they approached the Tri-State Airport in Huntington at 7:34 p.m. local time. They reported seeing lights from the Catlettsburg Refinery in nearby Northern Kentucky that they may have mistaken for the runway.

The Fatal Crash

The plane then braced for landing, before clipping trees and nose diving into a ravine nearby — 4,219 feet short of the runway at 7:36 p.m. The crash killed everyone on board and brought devastation to the community. 

Defensive coordinator Red Dawson and a graduate assistant were among the few coaches who were not on the doomed plane. The two were traveling to Ferrum College to recruit a junior college player. 

The two were outside Ferrum, Virginia buying boiled peanuts when they heard about the crash through the radio.

Aftermath

Dawson became the interim head coach for the Herd after second-year head coach Rick Tolley passed away in the incident. Marshall began building back for a potential 1971 season. 

The Herd hired Jack Lengyel away from Wooster College during the offseason. After the NCAA gave Marshall a waiver for freshman to play varsity football, the Herd were determined to return to the gridiron in 1971. 

They did just that. There were only nine players returning from the 1970 season that did not board the plane. 

When Marshall scored its first touchdown of the 1971 season against Morehead State, the crowd erupted in ovation. It signified the emotional return of Marshall football.

50 Years Later

Flash forward to today: the Thundering Herd have built their program into one of the most consistent Group of 5 teams in the country. 

This year alone, Marshall is very much in the mix for a potential New Year’s Six Berth if it were to continue its winning ways. Currently ranked at 16th, that’s the highest the Herd has been in the polls since 2002. 

While College Gameday may not be in Huntington on Saturday afternoon, this is still an emotional game for Marshall University and the Huntington community. This is still a game fans all over the country need to care about, and one where we remember the 75 lives lost on that tragic day back in 1970. 

Marshall and Middle Tennessee will air at noon ET on CBS Sports Network on Saturday. More importantly, we want those who lost their lives that fateful day to rest in peace. Marshall has everyone’s continued well wishes and thoughts. Prayers remain extended to the loved ones of the 75 who passed away.

We should continue to honor their memory each and every day.