W.Va. man recollects tragic plane crash

Published 9:56 am Monday, November 14, 2011


HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Today, Marshall University will pay tribute to those that died in what is has been called the worst air disaster in American sports history.

The 75 Thundering Herd football players, coaches, boosters, staff and crew that perished in a plane crash on Nov. 14, 1970, will be remembered at a memorial service conducted by Marshall’s Student Government Association at 11 a.m. on the Memorial Student Center plaza on the Huntington campus, just as they have been now for more than 40 years.

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As a lifelong resident of the Tri-State, John Cox said he remembers the tragedy vividly.

A DC-9 jetliner, returning Marshall home from its football game against East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C., clipped some trees near Tri-State Airport and went down.

Cox, from Huntington, was 28 years old when the crash happened and was working as an attendant at Hall Funeral Home in Proctorville. When word got out about the downed plane, Cox said he was ready to help.

“I called the police department and they said, ‘Yes. We need all the help we can get,’” Cox said. “So we took two ambulances down there and I think every funeral home in Huntington was there. “When we got there, we were in line, waiting, and they wouldn’t let us in there for a while.”

That night, Cox would be among rescue workers, firefighters, Red Cross workers, the National Guard, funeral home workers and others who volunteered to help in anyway they could.

“I was raining and it was cold, Cox said. “I saw the plane was cut in half. It was still smoking. You could see where the trees had been hit where the plane flew over.”

Cox’s volunteer role at the crash site was helping with the passenger recovery effort, a task that he has never forgotten.

Now 69 years old, Cox said he pays tribute to the victims of the plane crash every year.

I don’t think about it much, but I was there,” he said. “I always drive by and see where they’re buried. It’s something that you can’t forget. And you’ll never forget, because you were right there.”

Freshman member of the 1970 MU football team, Rick Meckstroth, will speak at the memorial service today. The service will conclude with the placing of the memorial wreath at the Memorial Fountain. The fountain will be silenced after the laying of the wreath, and remain so until next spring.