1977: Evansville Purple Aces basketball team killed in plane crash

EVANSVILLE, Ind -- Tragedy struck the community of Evansville on Dec. 13, 1977, when a plane carrying the men's basketball team crashed shortly after takeoff, killing all 29 on board.

The team was headed from the Evansville Regional Airport to the Nashville International Airport in Nashville, Tennessee. The Purple Aces were scheduled to play the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders. The DC-3 crashed roughly 90 seconds after takeoff.

Two Indianapolis natives were on the doomed flight, including Arsenal Technical High School all-city player John Ed Washington. Washington had become the leading scorer for the Purple Aces. Pike High School graduate Mark Siegal was also killed. The school retired his jersey number after his death.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, two factors contributed to the crash -- improper weight distribution and failure of the crew to remove external safety locks.

David Furr was the only team member who was not on board when the plane crashed. Furr had an ankle injury at the time and did not board the doomed flight. However, tragedy struck again just two weeks after the plane crash when Furr and his brother were killed in a car crash.

A memorial known as the "Weeping Basketball" stands in Memorial Plaza on the University of Evansville campus in remembrance of the lives lost.

The full aircraft accident report from the National Transportation Safety Board can be found here. 

Team Members

  • Ray Comandella, Fr.
  • Warren Alston, Fr.
  • Mike Duff, Fr.
  • Kraig Heckendorn, Fr.
  •  Michael Joyner, Fr.
  • Barney Lewis, Fr.
  • Greg Smith, Fr.
  • Mark Siegel, Fr.
  • Keith Moon, So.
  • Stephen Miller, Jr.
  • Bryan Taylor, Jr.
  •  Kevin Kingston, Sr.
  • John Ed Washington, Sr.
  • Tony Winburn, Sr.

Other Passengers

  • Bobby Watson, coach
  • Bob Hudson
  • Charles Shike
  • Gregory Knipping
  • Jeff Bohnert
  • Mark Kirkpatrick
  • Mark Kniese
  • Maurice "Maury" King
  • Charles Goad
  • Marv Bates

Crew, airline management

  • Bill Hartford, general manager, National Jet Service of Indianapolis
  • Ty Van Pham, pilot
  • Gaston Ruiz, co-pilot
  •  Pam Smith, flight attendant
  • James Stewart, president, National Jet Service of Indianapolis

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