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Addition To Wichita State Memorial Honors Survivors Of 1970 Plane Crash

Randy Phillips of SPT Architecture stands next to the recent addition to the Memorial 70 sculpture on the WSU campus.

Randy Phillips joined the Wichita State University football team in 1971, a year after the plane crash that killed 14 players and 17 other people.

"Everybody was pretty positive," recalled Phillips, who transferred from Vanderbilt University. "They wanted to get better and work hard.

"But, you know, nobody talked about it. They really just didn't talk about it at all."

Phillips attended the first memorial event for the victims that same year. And in attending similar events over the decades, he realized that the survivors — both from the plane that crashed and the other that landed safely — went through their own suffering, even if they didn’t talk about it.

That’s why he and Bill Moore, another member of that team, led a drive to create a monument for those who survived.

"The 31 people obviously lost everything," Phillips said of the crash victims. "But the other guys lost something at some point, somehow, whatever you want to call it. And so it's just our effort to try and leave something behind that's going to help retain that message."

Credit Courtesy

Two markers have been placed near the Memorial 70 sculpture on the WSU campus. One has the names of the eight players who survived the crash; the other 35 names from the Black plane, which landed safely.

"It seemed to make a lot sense because we all knew what an impact it had on them in different ways," Moore said of the monument to the survivors. He was a freshman on the 1970 team.

"This is a way to … recognize them and everything they’ve gone through – in this case 50 years ago – with the plane crash."

Listen to the 2015 radio documentary "The Pieces That Remain: Remembering the Wichita State Plane Crash"

WSU was en route to Utah State on Oct. 2, 1970, for a game the next day. After refueling in Denver, the planes took separate routes: The Gold plane went through the mountains and crashed near Silver Plume; the Black plane detoured around the mountains and landed safely in Utah, unaware anything was wrong.

"Imagine landing and not knowing anything because they weren’t told for a long time," Phillips said of the players, assistant coaches and others on the Black plane. "They sat on the ground and the other plane wasn't there.

"So there had to be a lot of shock and trauma in that, even though they didn't suffer anything physically."

Phillips and Moore worked with Ann Marie Siegwarth, director of development for the WSU Foundation, on the project. Moore said they also contacted family members of people who died in the crash to make sure they were comfortable with the additions to the Memorial 70 sculpture.

Much of the roughly $25,000 in private donations came from former players on those teams in early 1970s. Phillips said several former students of Randy Jackson also contributed.

Jackson was on the plane that crashed but survived. He later taught for many years at Wichita’s Robinson Middle School.

Phillips, founding partner of SPT Architecture, helped design the fuselage-shaped sculpture that lists the names of eight players who escaped from the wreckage of the downed plane.

He says he wants current WSU students to know that the survivors also are part of the WSU plane crash story. That they suffered loss and grieved, but moved forward, in part to honor the friends they had lost.

"I'd like to let them know that life goes on,” Phillips said. "I mean, that's kind of what it's all about, you know?"

A memorial service to remember those killed in the 1970 WSU plane crash will be held Friday morning at 9 at Cessna Stadium. Those attending should wear face masks and maintain social distancing. A reception will follow in the Cessna Stadium concourse.

The event also will be carried live on WSU’s YouTube channel.

Tom joined KMUW in 2017 after spending 37 years with The Wichita Eagle where he held a variety of reporting and editing roles. He also is host of The Range, KMUW’s weekly show about where we live and the people who live here. Tom is an adjunct instructor in the Elliott School of Communication at Wichita State University.