Evansville, IN Evansville Basketball Team In Crash, Dec 1977
CRASH KILLS EVANSVILLE TEAM.
By Charles Roberts
Associated Press Writer.
Evansville, Ind. (AP) -- A plane loaded with college basketball players and team supporters was trying to turn back with a sputtering engine in rain and dense fog when it crashed into a muddy hillside killing all 29 aboard, witnesses said.
The crash of the chartered twin-engine DC-3 Tuesday night wiped out the entire 14-man University of Evansville basketball team and its coach. In addition, the three crew members and 11 other persons were among the dead.
Searchers slogged through the mud today looking for two bodies still missing.
Many of the 5,000 students on the Methodist-affiliated campus spent the night praying, talking quietly with with[sic] friends or meditating.
"We couldn't go to sleep," said DAVID MENSING, and 18-year-old freshman from Peru, Ind. "You just can't take something like that to bed."
The twin engine propeller plane, chartered from National Jet Service Inc. of Indianapolis, left Dress Regional Airport here at 7:20 p.m. Tuesday bound for Nashville, Tenn., and "encountered some type of difficulty," said BILL PHIPPS, deputy coroner for Vanderburgh County.
He said the plane appeared to have turned back to the airport when it crashed into the hillside.
RICK NOTTER, an aircraft worker at the airport who witnessed the crash, said he saw the plane "disappear into the fog."
"About a minute and a half later I head his engines cutting out and he went down," NOTTER said.
"We saw it go into the clouds. We heard a loud 'pop.' We heard an engine rev up, then we heard the crash and saw an explosion," said PATRICK ALVEY, a licensed pilot and owner of Metro Beechcraft Corp., a charter service at the airport.
ALVEY said he and a companion were among the first to arrive at the scene, near railroad tracks north of a new residential subdivision.
The fuselage was intact, the left wing was ripped off," he recalled. "Very many bodies were still in their seatbelts and many were strewn around. It was a mess -- just a total mess."
"We had four people alive. They were just strewn around. The wreckage was on fire. There was nothing we could do for the people inside of it," said ALVEY.
"It looked like he was at least trying to get back to the airport," he said of the pilot. ALVEY said the plane hit the hillside at an angle of 240 to 250 degrees from takeoff.
"I would say he lost an engine and tried to get back."
The bodies were taken in a Louisville & Nashville Railroad boxcar to a temporary morgue set up in the city Community Center in downtown Evansville, 10 miles from the crash site. In the room where the rows of bodies lay beneath white sheets, which is sometimes used as a basketball court, a volleyball net was pushed aside for extra space.
JOHN ED WASHINGTON, one of the dead players, "used to come in here and play ball in the gym," said WALTER THOMAS, a local resident who remembered pick-up games with WASHINGTON.
"Now that's where they (the bodies) are. It's unreal."
The bodies were later taken to area funeral homes.
Assistant coach MARK SANDY, 25 did not accompany the team because he was on a scouting mission at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Ill.