WSU honors 1970 plane crash victims, maintains hope of football’s return

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – On October 2nd, 1970, a plane carrying nearly half of Wichita State’s football team, including coach Ben Wilson and administrators crashed en route to a game at Utah State University.

Among the list of 31 people who were killed was former Wichita State athlete Gary Curmode’s roommate. Curmode later went on to become Fire Chief at the Copper Mountain Fire Department in Copper Mountain, Colorado.

In regards to the pilots flying WSU’s plane, Curmode says, “They were at least three to four thousand feet way to low and they weren’t familiar with the terrain; at the point when they realized it was too late, that’s when they crashed into the mountain.”

Assistant athletic director at the time, Dorothy Harman was moved into the role of head A.D. after the crash.

Harman told KSN, “The biggest thing was to keep the athletic department functioning and taking care of all the business, taking care of the families.”

“When you have a situation like this for so many people who die, in a really tragic accident that was avoidable, it just tears at the fabric of the institution and what we’re about,” said WSU President John Bardo.

Just over a decade and a half after the tragedy, Wichita State shut down the football program in 1986, but this year, new light emerged with talks resuming of a possible return for WSU football.

“I would love to have it return but it is such a tremendous financial thing to put together,” said Harman.

“What we’ve tried to do with the approach we’re taking is bring consultants in who really know something, to try and connect with the conferences to see what’s actually going on in Division I so that we have a much better view, I’ve got an athletic director who really is connected now nationally, you know this would be something-if we can pull it off, it’s well worth doing,” said Bardo.

Along with Sunday’s memorial in the Air Capital, University of Arkansas in North Little Rock held a reunion involving WSU players last Friday. The Wichita State football team resumed play after their 1970 crash just three weeks later at Arkansas’ War Memorial Stadium.

By nearly a unanimous vote, WSU athletes voted to continue playing shortly after their plane crash in ’70. They reportedly received a standing ovation in their first game back, on the road in Little Rock. Wichita State’s revamped roster included over three dozen freshmen.