Exactly 62 years ago today, on October 29, 1960, a plane carrying the California Polytechnic State University football team crashed near Toledo, Ohio, killing 22 of the 48 passengers and crew.
Earlier that day, the Mustangs had played nearby Bowling Green State University. Sixteen of the football team’s players, a student manager, a booster club member, two crew members, and a couple of passengers perished in the crash. Of the other 22 people aboard the plane who survived, some were injured severely. Hampering the rescue efforts was a dense fog that slowed ambulances from Toledo reaching the airport, which was located twenty miles east of the city.
The plane was a WWII Curtiss C-46 Commando
The aircraft involved in the accident was a 15-year-old former WWII Curtiss C-46F-1-CU Commando with the registration N1244N. The C-46 had been chartered to fly the California State Polytechnic College Mustangs from Santa Maria, California, to Toledo, Ohio, and back.
The plane was chartered from Arctic Pacific and was flying from Toledo-Express Airport (TOL) in Ohio to San Luis Obispo, California, with stops at Kansas City Downtown Municipal Airport (MKC) in Missouri and Albuquerque International Airport (ABQ) in New Mexico for refueling.
On the day of the accident, the weather at Toledo Airport was deteriorating steadily, and by 19:00, visibility was down to just 3/4 of a mile. By 20:37, it was 1/16 of a mile, and by the time of the crash at 22:02 zero.
The investigation into the crash
When investigating the accident, the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) concluded that the Curtiss C-46 Commando aircraft had been overloaded by 2,000 lbs above its maximum certificated gross takeoff weight of 47,100 lbs and that there was a partial power loss in the left engine before the crash.
Following the crash, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) published a notice in the Airman’s Guide prohibiting commercial aircraft from taking off when the visibility was below 1/4 mile or when the runway visual range was below 2,000 feet. In its published final report, the CAB said that the crash resulted from a premature lift-off and a pilot’s loss of control of the aircraft. Contributing to the accident were the following three factors:
- An overweight aircraft.
- The weather conditions at the time of the crash.
- A partial loss of power in the left engine.
The aftermath of the crash
The pilot who had decided to fly despite the weather was flying on a revoked certificate but was allowed to keep flying pending an appeal. Following the accident, aircraft charter company Arctic Pacific lost its license to charter planes and went out of business.
Among the people who survived the crash was quarterback Ted Tollner, who later became the head coach at the University of Southern California (USC) and San Diego State. At the time of the crash, Bowling Green was the easternmost school that Cal Poly played against.
After the crash, Cal Poly’s remaining three games were canceled, and the school refrained from playing any games outside of California until 1969. Gradually the distance the team was willing to travel was increased, with the team playing its first game east of the Rocky Mountains in 1978. Unfortunately for Cal Poly, they lost the NCAA Division II playoff game with Winston-Salem State in North Carolina 17-0.
NFL football announcer John Madden who played for the Mustangs, during the 1957 and 1958 seasons, was well known for his fear of flying. At the time of the crash, Madden was coaching at nearby Allan Hancock Junior College and knew many passengers aboard the plane. While it was assumed that Madden’s fear of flying stemmed from the crash, he told people that he did not like to fly because he was claustrophobic.