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A Final Flight
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This is an sad event that occurred more than 3 decades ago that has become a forgotten part of history. I Googled and found only a few places that mentioned this story in any depth and none gave the full background.
On October 2, 1970, members of the Wichita State University football team boarded a plane in Denver to head to Salt Lake City. After taking off from Denver, the pilot decided to head west to take the team and his overloaded plane on an unplanned "scenic route". What he didn’t realize was that he was headed into Clear Creek Canyon- a long 20+ mile canyon ending at the Continental Divide in an abrupt headwall rising more than 1500 feet. He would need to gain more than 6000 feet from taking off in Denver to the pass at the Divide to exit the canyon. As the plane headed down the valley, many people saw the plane very closely- it was only 500-1000ft off the ground. A state trooper in the canyon realized that the plane was too low, headed up through a canyon it wouldn’t be able to get out of- in the thin air there would be no way that plane could get the power to gain enough altitude to get out of the canyon. As the plane headed up the valley, the state trooper radioed in, telling the dispatcher what he saw and requesting emergency support and ambulances. Because of his actions, the ambulances were headed up the canyon towards where the plane would crash even before it crashed. True enough, too late the pilot realized they were trapped and attempted to bank into a tight circle hoping to retreat out of the canyon- it was in that turn that the plane smacked into the side of the mountain. At that same time, hundreds of workers leaving the construction site for the Eisenhower Tunnel were getting off work and witnessed the crash. Pieces of the aircraft were torn off as it descended through the trees. The wings were broken off at their attach points, torn apart, and strewn along the tree swath. Realizing there was no way to get to the plane since it crashed on a roadless, forested mountain, workers scrambled to get their equipment- by the time the ambulances arrived on the scene, the tunnel workers had bulldozed an improvised road up to the crash site. At first, the plane was not on fire – but as workers tried to help rescue the victims, much to everyone's horror an explosion occurred and the plane was consumed in flames - the pilot had the tanks filled completely full of fuel before they left and only a small portion had been used on their trip down the canyon. According to the crash investigation report, the fuselage was entirely burned down to molten aluminum. Of the 40 people on board, 31 lost their lives. The 9 survivors were out of the plane before the explosion.
In another sick twist, since the road that was bulldozed to get emergency workers to the crash site was on national forest lands, the National Forest Service sued the tunnel workers for removing trees and building a road without a permit.
I have a personal connection to this cache and that is how I know what occurred that sad day. My Grandfather was one of the employees at the Eisenhower Tunnel that was working that day. He was there to witness and rush to the crash and he was there in court defending their actions to help save the crash victims that day.
This virtual cache is a plaque dedicated to the Wichita State University team that lost their lives that day. To claim credit for this cache, please email me the names that are second and third from the bottom on the plaque.
A PBS episode about this can be found at: (visit link)
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Last Updated: on 5/21/2018 7:25:45 PM Pacific Daylight Time (2:25 AM GMT)
Coordinates are in the WGS84 datum