MCGILL: Marshall, Wichita State Forever Linked By Tragedy
The Word on the Herd -- March 15, 2018
By Chuck McGill
SAN DIEGO – In the moments after the NCAA men's basketball tournament pairing of Wichita State and Marshall was announced on Selection Sunday, Shockers radio color analyst Dave Dahl let his mind drift back to the fall of 1970.
“There is a kinship between the two schools,” said Dahl, who was a senior men’s basketball player that year. “It was the first thing that came to my mind. How ironic it was that the two of us would be paired against one another.
“It’s almost as if the two teams are in the tournament, it’s good that (the selection committee) put us together so we can remember what happened and remember what bound us together so many years ago that still keeps us connected today.”
Dahl is referring to the 1970 football team plane crashes that devastated the campuses and communities in Wichita, Kansas, and Huntington, West Virginia. Wichita State’s tragedy occurred on Oct. 2, 1970, when a chartered Martin 4-0-4 airliner crashed into a mountain eight miles west of Silver Plume, Colorado. The plane, en route to Logan, Utah, for a game against Utah State University, carried 37 passengers, including players, administrators, the head coach, boosters and their families. Six survived, but 31 died.
Forty-three days later, on Nov. 14, 1970, the Marshall football program experienced its own plane crash, which killed all 75 people aboard one plane. Wichita State had transported its team on two planes, and the other arrived to its destination safely.
On Thursday morning here inside San Diego State University’s Viejas Arena, Wichita State play-by-play radio announcer Mike Kennedy asked Marshall men’s basketball coach Dan D’Antoni about the events. Dahl and Kennedy were students at Wichita State at the time, the latter of whom worked on the campus radio station.
D’Antoni said he was seated on the couch at Dr. Ray Hagley’s house when he learned of the news of the Wichita State crash.
“(Hagley) looked at me and said, ‘You know, we’ll never feel the pain and the tragedy of that crash from where we’re sitting,’” D’Antoni recalled. "You have to be part of that to understand it.”
The next month, Hagley died in Marshall’s crash.
Kennedy and Dahl sat courtside as the No. 13 seeded Thundering Herd practiced for Friday’s matchup against No. 4 seeded Wichita State in the East Region Round of 64, and the on-air pair couldn’t help but reminisce about what transpired nearly 48 years ago.
It was a Friday afternoon in 1970 and Dahl was at an informal workout with his teammates when they were summoned to the coach’s office by one of the assistants.
“We didn’t know what the heck was going on,” Dahl said.
The Shockers’ basketball program had used the same charter service the previous season, so Dahl knew the flight crew. The football players lived in the same dorm as he did, so he had learned many of his friends had died. Members of the athletic department, the faces he saw every day around the program, had also died.
“It was pretty devastating for us,” Dahl said.
Kennedy was on duty at the campus radio station when he said the Associated Press broke an embargo and let the news of the crash go across the wire.
“At first (the reports) said everyone had been killed, then there was one that said there were survivors and they were walking down the hill,” Kennedy recalled. “They sent me over to the administrative offices because we knew there were two planes. Then we started getting calls all over the country, other campus radio stations and news agencies. So I spent most of the day fielding those and telling people what we knew and didn’t know. I was aware of it and involved with it right from the beginning.”
A telethon – a variety show hosted by Monty Hall – was organized as a fundraiser for the Wichita State victims and their families. When the Marshall crash followed, the people of Wichita expanded their mission to help the people hurting in Huntington.
“It was only appropriate Marshall be included,” Dahl said. “The community embraced it. The heartache is still indescribable to this day.”
Like at Marshall, there is a ceremony on the anniversary of the crash each year. Hundreds in the community turn out, including former players. The names of the 31 victims are read, there is a prayer and then a song.
“It’s a very somber event,” Dahl said.
A 68-team bracket will link the two schools Friday, but the game will accomplish much more because of the remembrance of those who were lost at Wichita State and Marshall in the fall of 1970. One team will advance and the other will head home, but the schools will forever be on a journey together.
“It’s a connection that will never be broken,” Dahl said. “People of my generation – I’m in my late 60s now – it has a lot of meaning to. People who are younger, they don’t understand the significance of it, the timing of it or the connection we have, forever, with Marshall University. My generation and the next generation, like my sons, are very familiar with all of that, so people of those two generations understand it and appreciate it and also understand what Marshall went through because of what we went through at Wichita State.”
“It’s something that we will never get over. Ever.”