50 years ago, the sports world had one of its biggest tragedies. On October 2nd, 1970, two planes departed from Wichita, Kansas carrying the Wichita State football team players, coaches, staff, and boosters. Both the “Black” and the “Gold” planes completed the first leg of the trip successfully and landed in Denver, Colorado to refuel. That is where the two planes took two vastly different paths into history leading to the Wichita State Crash.
50 Years After the Wichita State Crash
The “Gold” plane was carrying many of the team’s starters, Head Coach Ben Wilson, athletic director Bert Katzenmeyer, and additional personnel. The “Black” plane was transporting reserve players, the assistant coaches, and other personnel.
After refueling in Denver, the “Black” plane took the route originally planned on. However, the “Gold” plane’s pilot decided to take a different route. This new path would give the passengers a view of the proposed site of the 1976 Winter Olympics. Unfortunately, this route did not allow the plane to climb to the proper altitude to go over the Rocky Mountains.
At 1:14 PM, the plane collided with Mount Trelease. Of the 40 people on board, 29 died at the scene. Two more who had survived the initial accident passed away later on due to the injuries sustained in the accident.
Living with the Wichita State Crash
Glenn Kostal has three children and has been married for almost 35 years. He graduated from Wichita State with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and went on to spend many years in sales and marketing in the furniture industry. “Work for years has been my go-to,” Kostal told Last Word on Sports in a recent conversation, “You immerse yourself in that and then you don’t have to deal with stuff you have to feel.”
Family Pulls You Through
Kostal has been able to rely on his family through everything, though. “My wife is very spiritual and has kind of carried me through this big time,” said Kostal. His oldest son also served in the Army and Special Forces. Due to this, he has dealt with a lot of the same things that his father has dealt with. “He’s my go-to. I have him and he has me,” says Kostal, “I always have someone to call. And he gets it.”
Kostal also talked about going back to the site of the accident for the first time. A few years ago, he had decided he was ready to go back to where it had happened. “Fifteen minutes later, she [his wife] came back and said ‘Your kids want to be there with you.’ That was one of the highlights of my life,” said Kostal, “To have your family climb that mountain and get to that crash site.”
At the base of the mountain is a memorial for all of the lives lost on the flight. “Jason, my oldest, came up to me and he handed me a quarter,” said Kostal, “I asked him what it was for and he said, ‘Well in the military if you’re at a gravesite and you knew the person, you put a nickel on the grave. If you served with the person, you put a dime. If you were there when they passed away you put a quarter.’ And that kind of set the stage for the whole thing.”
He also says that he has begun talking to some of the other survivors recently, as well. About two years ago, Kostal got back in contact with Dave Lewis and Mike Bruce. “To be honest with you, it’s like nothing changed. It’s like going back 50 years,” says Kostal, “They’re different people, but they’re the same people… We all lost and miss the same people.”
“Second chance? I’ve been in a car accident. Maybe it’s been three or four chances,” said Kostal, “But that’s life.”
After having his education delayed temporarily, Rick Stephens ended up graduating from Wichita State in 1971 with a degree in sociology. Following his graduation, Stephens took a position at the Hutchison Correctional Facility. After about a year, Stephens moved to Missouri to work with their Department of Family Services.
Following this, Stephens returned to Wichita to earn an education certificate to teach industrial arts. He taught in middle and high schools and coached football and track for 24 years. “I found education and being a teacher much more rewarding than the previous occupations that I had had,” Stephens told Last Word on Sports in a recent discussion. Stephens then moved to Topeka, Kansas for three years. While there, he taught at the Kansas Juvenile Correctional Complex, which housed the student from the 1985 Goddard school shooting. After this, he returned to Wichita and earned a master’s degree in school administration. Before retiring in 2009, Stephens became an assistant principal and then worked at an adult education center.
Cycling for a Cause
During this time, Stephens began to get interested in cycling. In 2007, he rode up to Winnipeg, Manitoba. He then did it once more before deciding to do it for a cause on his third trip. In 2010, he rode to raise money for the Susan G. Komen Foundation. In 2015, he did a ride for Alzheimer’s research after a family friend had been diagnosed with the disease.
In October, Stephens will ride to Denver for the third time to raise money for the Football ’70 Memorial Scholarship. “Both of my kids attended Wichita State through that scholarship, so I thought it was appropriate to do something to support that,” said Stephens. He also did the ride in 2012 and 2014.
Following his time at Wichita State, Bruce returned to Texas. He has lived in the Dallas area since returning and is a practicing certified public accountant. Bruce owns his own firm. He has been married to his “high school sweetheart” since his senior year of college in the early 1970s.
Bruce is still an avid college football fan. He says that he roots for the Texas Longhorns and the SMU Mustangs, but loves to watch any college football, especially the smaller conferences. “They don’t have any money in their pocket to play,” says Bruce, “And if they do, it’s only like $5.”
Bruce, Kostal, and a third survivor, Lewis, still stay in touch. The trio didn’t talk for a long time before just recently getting back in contact. “It makes me tear up a little thinking about how long we didn’t talk,” said Bruce, “But that’s just how long it took I guess. There were an incredible amount of emotions that affected us all.” Bruce said they do talk fairly regularly, especially with the 50th Anniversary being this year. “It’s more of when they have a thought,” said Bruce, “Whenever one of us have something that makes us think, we pick up the phone and talk.”
Bruce points out that the Wichita State football team around that time was not very good. In fact, they were coming off of five straight seasons with two wins or less every year. He attributes how close the players were to the fact that you have to be close when you are not winning football games.
“You’ve got to make the best out of it,” says Bruce, “For the most part, we have all taken that kind of attitude. We did have a second chance at things. Don’t screw it up. Don’t embarrass your friends who didn’t make it.”
One name that kept coming up was that of Johnny Taylor. Taylor and Bruce played together at Sherman High School in Texas. The two also became roommates during their time in college. “He was one of these guys that you couldn’t help but love,” said Kostal, “A great athlete, just a dynamic kid.” Kostal took a plaque up to the crash site to honor Taylor.
“Mike and I kept saying, ‘If Johnny lives everything will be fine,” said Kostal. Unfortunately, 26 days after the accident, Taylor lost the fight for his life in the hospital.
Of the survivors, only one went on to play in the NFL. Randy Jackson was a running back for the Shockers from 1968-1971. In 1972, the Buffalo Bills took Jackson 79th overall in the 4th round of that year’s draft. He spent one year each in Buffalo, San Fransisco, and Philadelphia. That one year in Buffalo was also the year prior to OJ Simpson winning his MVP.
After retiring from the NFL, Jackson returned to Wichita. He spent 30 years there coaching basketball and teaching physical education at Robinson Middle School. In July of 2010, Jackson passed away at 61 years of age from pancreatic cancer. Those who knew Jackson describe him as a great football player, but more importantly as a “great guy, with a great sense of humor.”
50 Years Later, Still Living with the Crash
50 years later and these men are still living with what happened that day due to the decisions made my a pair of pilots. No one can plan for this kind of life-altering disaster. However, despite the tragedy, they have all found ways to overcome and build remarkable lives in the five decades since.