Airplane travel is a routine part of athletes’ lives. In the regular season of major sports leagues in the United States, there are thousands of uneventful flights every year. But when something goes awry, sports fans and the families of those lost never forget.
The crash of a jet as it carried members of Chapecoense Real to Colombia for a soccer match this week is the latest tragedy intruding on the seemingly safe world of sports. Here are other crashes that have taken the lives of athletes, coaches and others.
Nov. 8, 1948 — Five members of the Czech national hockey team, including International Ice Hockey Hall of Famer Ladislav Trojak died when their plane vanished into the English Channel en route from Paris to London. The team, which had won the World Championships and competed in the Olympics, had split into two groups, with other players flying to England for a couple of exhibition games a day earlier.
May 4, 1949 — Torino, an Italian soccer club that was a five-time league champion during the ’40s, lost 22 members, including 18 players, when its plane crashed into a retaining wall at Turin’s Basilica of Superga.
Jan. 7, 1950 — Eleven members of the Moscow VVS ice hockey team perished when their plane crashed while attempting to land in a snowstorm at Koltsovo airport in Yekaterinburg.
Feb. 6, 1958 — In an incident known as the “Munich air disaster,” eight Manchester United players died when their plane crashed while attempting to take off after stopping to refuel. The team was returning to Manchester from a European Cup match against Red Star Belgrade, and two attempts at takeoff were aborted before the third fatal try.
Aug. 14, 1958 — The Egyptian fencing team lost six members when its KLM flight crashed into the Atlantic Ocean just off the coast of Ireland. The flight, which originated in Amsterdam and had just departed Shannon, was headed for a stop in Newfoundland before its final destination of New York City.
Oct. 10, 1960 — Despite a thick fog, the Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo football team sought to return from Toledo to the West Coast after a dispiriting 50-6 loss, so their coach told the pilot, “Let’s give it the old college try.” The plane climbed to 100 feet before crashing, killing 16 members of the team.
Feb. 16, 1961 — The entire 18-member U.S. figure skating team, along with 16 coaches, officials and family members, died when their Sabena Airlines flight crashed in Berg-Kampenhout, Belgium, en route to the World Figure Skating Championships in Prague. The incident was the worst air disaster involving a U.S. sports team until members of the Marshall University football team were killed in a 1970 crash. (See below.) The U.S. figure-skating program was devastated with the loss of its top talent; an American woman did not win Olympic gold until 1968 (Peggy Fleming), and it took American men until 1984 (Scott Hamilton).
April 3, 1961 — The crash of the plane carrying eight members of Green Cross, a Chilean first-division soccer team, returned to the news last year when wreckage of the plane was discovered 54 years after it had crashed in the Andes. “It was a breathtaking moment, and we felt all kinds of sensations. One could feel the energy of the place and breathe the pain,” Leonardo Albornoz said. “The plane is more than 10,000 feet above sea level. A large part of the fuselage is still intact and a lot of material, including human bones, are scattered around the wreck.”
April 28, 1968 — The Lamar Tech track team lost five members and its coach in an early-morning crash that occurred just before landing in Beaumont, Tex. The team was returning from the Drake Relays in Des Moines.
Sept. 26, 1969 — Sixteen players on Bolivia’s “The Strongest” soccer team died when their plane crashed near a rural area of the country called Viloco. The team had been asked to play in a postseason game; the wreckage was found two days after crashing.
Oct. 2, 1970 — One of two planes carrying members of the Wichita State football team crashed just outside Denver after refueling en route to a game against Utah State, killing 14 players. The pilots of the “Gold” plane were trying to give passengers a view of the Rocky Mountains but were unable to pull the plane, which was overweight, out of a box canyon. The plane, estimated by the National Transportation Safety Board to have been overweight by about 5,165 pounds, crashed on Mount Trelease at an altitude of about 10,750 feet.
Nov. 14, 1970 — The crash that killed most of the Marshall University football team has become part of American sports lore, with a movie documenting the team’s return to competition with the stirring “We are Marshall!” chant. Thirty-seven players died along with nine coaches and 25 boosters when their plane crashed into a hill on approach at the Huntington, W.Va., airport. The crash remains the deadliest involving a U.S. sports team.
Oct. 13, 1972 — Known in South America as the “Miracle of the Andes,” the crash of a Uruguayan Air Force twin turboprop in Chile’s Andes became famous for what occurred, as survivors resorted to cannibalism to survive. Aboard the plane was a Uruguayan rugby club. Eleven players died and the story of the passengers’ survival became the focus of the book and movie “Alive.”
Dec. 13, 1977 — The Evansville men’s basketball team was virtually wiped out by the deaths of 14 players and Coach Bobby Watson in a crash upon takeoff en route to a game against Middle Tennessee State. The only surviving member of the team, David Furr, was not making the trip because of an ankle injury. He and his brother were killed in a car accident a little over two weeks later.
March 14, 1980 — Fourteen boxers and eight U.S. boxing staff members were killed when Flight 007 crashed near Warsaw. The athletes were traveling from New York to Poland to compete in events in Krakow and Katowice when the jet crashed about a half-mile from Warsaw’s Okecie Airport.
Nov. 25, 1985 — The Iowa State women’s cross country team was returning to Ames, Iowa, after taking second in the NCAA championships in Milwaukee when ice from a drizzle built up on the wings of the plane carrying three runners, two coaches and a student athletic trainer. Although a plane carrying the men’s team had landed without incident, the plane carrying the women’s runners crashed into a residential neighborhood, cartwheeled onto a lawn and burst into flames. In his last transmission, the pilot said, “I can’t do anything. I’m in the trees.”
Dec. 8, 1987 — Sixteen members of Peru’s first-division soccer team Alianza Lima died, along with their coach, when their plane crashed into the Pacific Ocean, six miles short of the airport in Lima, Peru. Nearly 20 years after the crash, a Peruvian television program revealed that the results of an official inquiry cited the pilot’s lack of night-flying experience, his misreading of the emergency procedures related to the landing gear issue, and the aircraft’s poor mechanical condition as contributing factors.
April 28, 1993 — An official report determined that 18 players on Zambia’s national soccer team, along with five team officials, died in a crash in Libreville, Gabon, because of a mechanical problem with the left engine. The pilots switched off the right engine by mistake because of a “poor indicator lightbulb,” causing the plane to lose all power and crash. The team was en route to a World Cup qualifier in Senegal.
Jan. 27, 2001 — Two members of the Oklahoma State men’s basketball team, Dan Lawson and Nate Fleming, died along with six staff members and broadcasters when their plane crashed after their pilot became disoriented in a snowstorm 40 miles east of Denver. The plane was one of three taking Oklahoma State players and school entourage back to Stillwater after a game against Colorado.
Oct. 24, 2004 — The Hendrick Motorsports team suffered a devastating loss when an airplane the NASCAR team owned crashed during a missed approach to an airport in Stuart, Va. The flight was en route to a race and among the 10 killed were John Hendrick, president of the company, and former Busch Series driver and owner Ricky Hendrick.
Sept. 7, 2011 — Twenty-seven players on Russia’s Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey team died along with two coaches and seven club officials when their plane crashed in Tunoshna, Russia. “I quickly realized that we were on unpaved ground, the plane started falling shortly after takeoff, and it was clear that we were going to crash,” Alexander Sizov told Russia’s Channel One. The team, which played in Russia’s top league, was en route to the season opener in Minsk, Belarus.