Friday, October 2, 2015

#CollisionWithFame: October 2 1970 -- Wichita State University Football Team

On October 2 1970, two Golden Eagle craft were transporting the Wichita State University Shockers football team to Logan, Utah, for a game with Utah State University.   Wichita State came out of the old Missouri Valley Conference, which was more of a basketball conference, mainly composed of teams from the Midwest.  Their football team rarely played outside the region

 Golden Eagle Flight 108 was a Martin 4-0-4 produced in the early 1950s. The 4-0-4 was a forty passenger aircraft powered by two 2,400hp Pratt & Whitney engines.  Manufactured from 1947 to 1953 as a successor to Martin’s problem-plagued 2-0-2, a total of 103 of the 4-0-4 were produced by Glenn L. Martin in Baltimore and delivered mainly to Eastern Airlines (60 craft) and TWA (40 craft) from 1951-53.  Three 4-0-4’s were delivered to the Coast Guard and US Navy. When the major carriers switched over to jet service, the 4-0-4’s were sold to regional service providers, including Golden Eagle Aviation. 

Serving as first officer on one of the flights, a 4-0-4 with tail number N464M was the president of Golden Eagle, Ronald Skipper (Skipper he was not rated in type and therefore could not captain the flight). Survivors report that Mr. Skipper advised passengers during the Wichita-Denver leg of the flight that they would make a scenic pass by the Loveland ski resort.  The craft approached the Rockies at a low altitude, evidently too low.  The plane was unable to clear or turn to avoid the range of the American Continental Divide, crashing into Mount Trelease a third of a mile below the peak.  31 of 40  persons on the plane were killed; the game the next day was canceled; Wichita State and Utah State have not played since, and Wichita State actually dropped football in 1986.

The skies were clear that afternoon; visual flight rules were in effect with no vision obstructions, unlimited ceiling and a mild 10 knot wind. The NTSB report clearly placed the blame for the accident on the pilots and their sight-seeing tour near the Colorado ski resort, reporting that the pilot in command made “improper in-flight decisions” and “failed to follow approved procedures” and, further, that the flight crew was insufficiently supervised.  Specifically, the flight crew engaged in “intentional operation of an aircraft over a mountain valley at an altitude too low for safe climbout or course reversal.” 

 The Martin 4-0-4 also might bear some obligations.  Of the 103 4-0-4’s built, 23 were involved in crashes, including nine fatal crashes.  Four of these were major crashes of scheduled airline flights.  Golden Eagle 108 was the most fatal of all.