Marshall remembers lives lost in worst US sports disaster

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FILE - In this Nov. 15, 1970, file photo, a fireman looks over the wreckage of a plane in Kenova near Huntington, W.Va. Marshall will mark the 50th anniversary of the plane crash that killed all 75 aboard on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020, on the campus in Huntington. (AP Photo/Henry Griffin, File)

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Marshall University commemorated the 50th anniversary of one of the worst sports disasters in U.S. history Saturday, a plane crash that killed most of the football team.

The solemn ceremony was held around a fountain dedicated to the crash victims on Marshall's Huntington campus. As part of an annual rite, the fountain was turned off at the end of the service and will be turned back on in the spring.

“This plaza and this fountain are the heart of Marshall University,” university President Jerome Gilbert said. “It is the center of activity of the campus.

"Today, it is a sacred place.”

On Nov. 14, 1970, the chartered jet crashed in fog and rain into a hillside upon approach to an airport near Huntington as the team was returning from a game at East Carolina, killing all 75 on board.

On Saturday, 75 candles surrounded the fountain. Gone were sons, fathers, mothers, classmates and fraternity brothers. The victims included 36 football players and 39 school administrators, coaches, fans, spouses and flight crew. White roses were laid by the fountain as each victim’s name was read at the ceremony.

Former Marshall cheerleader Lucianne Kautz Call lost her father, Charlie E. Kautz, who was the university's athletic director. She graduated from Marshall in 1971.

“We each lost one or more family members,” said Call, the ceremony's keynote speaker. “From that moment, we became one family.”