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Evansville, IN Evansville Basketball Team In Crash, Dec 1977


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.
"I heard it on the radio coming back," said SANDY as he awaited relatives of the victims in the Community Center gym.
"It felt like it was somebody else -- that it was a mistake," SANDY said.
SANDY said the Evansville Aces had won one game and lost three this season. The Aces were five-time champions of the National Collegiate Athletic Association's Division II basketball tournament. This year it had moved up to Division I play.
"We had eight freshmen, all new coaches," he said. "We were just getting started."
JIM BYERS, the college athletic director, said classes were canceled today and that a memorial service was being planned for today or Thursday.
The team was to have flown to Nashville, then take a bus to Murfreesboro for a Wednesday basketball game with Middle Tennessee State University.
The university party aboard included 14 players; Coach BOBBY WATSON of Newburgh, Ind.; university controller CHARLES SHIKE; assistant athletic director BOB HUDSON; sports information director GREG KNIPPING; MARV BATES, a sportscaster for WUEV, the campus radio station; and three team managers, said the sheriff's office.
Authorities said two local team boosters, CHARLES GOAD and MAURICE KING, also died in the crash.
Still missisng at dawn were the pilot, Capt. TY VAN PHAM, and JAMES STEWART, president of National Jet Service Inc.
Also killed were BILL HARTFORD, general manager of the charter firm, and two crew members -- 1st Officer GASTON RUIZ and flight attendant PAM SMITH.
PHIPPS said he examined bodies and "most of them suffered head and chest injuries."
PHIPPS said that when he arrived, both wings were off the plane and "the fuselage was broken open."
"There was a small amount of fire -- nothing very large. It looked as if there had been extensive fire, but however it was out when I was there," he said.
"None of the bodies seemed burned or anything."
JUAN NAVARRO, driving nearby in a truck, saw the blaze of light and said he thought it was a building on fire. When he learned on his CB radio that a plane had crashed, he said he stopped and ran to the scene.
The muddy crash scene was littered with college letter jackets and gym bags. Some were marked, "Evansville Aces," the team's nickname.

Crash casualties.
Evansville, Ind. (AP) -- Indiana State Police identified these passengers killed when a DC3 carrying the University of Evansville basketball team crashed Tuesday night. The bodies of two others aboard the plane, identified as Capt. T. PHAM, the pilot, and JAMES STEWART, president of National Jet Service, Inc., the Indianapolis charter company, were no immediately located, police said.
BOB WATSON, 34, basketball coach, Rt. 3, Newburgh, Ind.
WARREN ALSTON, 18, freshman, Goldsboro, N.C.
RAY COMANDELLA, 18, freshman, Munster, Ind.
MIKE DUFF, 18, freshman, 1530 Oregon, Eldorado, Ill.
KRAIG HECKERDORN, 19, freshman, 3012 Sue Lane, Cincinnati.
MIKE JOYNER, 19, freshman, 1455 S. 12th, Terre Haute, Ind.
KEVIN KINGSTON, 21, senior, Rt. 2, Eldorado, Ill.
BARNEY LEWIS, 18, freshman Rt. 3, Dudley, N.C.
STEVE MILLER, 20, junior, 921 Castlewood Dr., New Albany, Ind.
KEITH MOON, 20, sophomore, 3731 Blossom Heath, Kettering, Ohio.
MARK SIEGEL, 19, freshman, 4158 Melbourne Rd., Indianapolis.
GREG SMITH, 18, freshman, West Frankfort, Ill.
BRYAN TAYLOR, 20, junior, Tell City, Ind.
JOHN ED WASHINGTON, 21, senior, 1825 Tallman, Indianapolis.
TONY WINBURN, 22, senior, 808 Mechanic, Jeffersonville, Ind.
GREG KNIPPING, 27, sports information director, 1325 Woodbine, Evansville.
BOB HUDSON, athletic business manager, 1320 Nelson Court, Evansville.
CHARLES SHIKE, university controller, 537 Wilson Square, Evansville.
MARV BATES, university radio broadcaster, Evansville.
JEFF BOHNERT, team manager, 7138 E. Chandler, Evansville.
MARK KIRKPATRICK, team manager, 5300 Warren, Evansville.
MARK KNIESE (unsure of spelling), team manager, 2905 E. Oak, Evansville.
CHARLES GOAD, president, GOAD Equipment Co., 812 S. Villa, Evansville.
MAURICE KING, 2122 Harmony Way, Evansville.
G. RUIZ, airline first officer, address unknown.
PAM SMITH, stewardess, address unknown.
BILL HARTFORD, general manager, National Jet Service.

Andersonville Daily Bulletin Indiana 1977-12-14



I am the brother of one of the student managers who perished that evening. Thank you for taking the time to research and post this to the web. It helps keep the memories of those lost that night alive.

Pat Alvey quotes

I am Pat's oldest daughter and remember vividly that night. He was right there in the middle of the wreckage, looking for survivors. He was a hero that night.

article | by Dr. Radut