SILVER PLUME, Colo. (UPI) -- A chartered airplane carrying the Wichita State University football team crashed and burned Friday near timberline 12,000 feet high in the Colorado Rockies, killing 31 persons.
It was the worst disaster in American sports history.
Eleven survivors, who wandered badly burned and dazed out of the heavy pines, were taken by ambulance to two hospitals in Denver.
The Colorado state patrol said the remaining football players, coaches and fans among the 42 persons aboard the craft, which had a crew of four, were presumed killed.
The dead included Wichita State football coach Ben Wilson and his wife and A.C. "Bert" Katzenmeyers, athletic director, and his wife.
The football team was en route to Logan, Utah, for a Saturday game with Utah State. The Kansas team and a group of fans were traveling in two planes, twin-engine Martin 404s -- aircraft built in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
The second plane, carrying 34 persons including 22 football players, landed safely in Logan an hour after the crash of its companion plane.
Fourteen members of Wichita State's 45-member squad died in the crash. Nine players survived along with the co-pilot and the team trainer.
At nightfall, six hours after the crash, the plane still burned.
Battered black and gold football helmets littered the wreckage site. There were smoldering shirts and ties, shoulder pads, a pair of shoes with No. 63 written inside and a charred book of Wichita State football plays.
In 1960, 16 members of the Cal Poly team died in an Ohio plane crash that killed a total of 22. In 1961, a Belgium plane crash killed 73 persons, including 18 members of the U.S. figure skating team.
Wichita team survivors included quarterback Bob Renner and star running back Randy Jackson, who had led his club in rushing for the first three games of the season -- all losses.
The plane lost power and apparently tried to land on a highway before it smashed into thick timber on a mountain.
"We saw a plane coming up the canyon, very slow and very low," said George J. Gruenwald, a tourist from Huntington Beach, Calif. He said the plane narrowly missed their car in its plunge to earth.
"My wife said, 'My God, I hope he doesn't land on the highway in front of us.' But instead he veered off to the right a little bit and kind of up on a knoll, and I thought, what the devil is he going to do back there because there is just another big mountain back there.
"The next thing I saw was a big ball of fire coming up."
Some survivors wandered dazed out of the heavy forest country onto highways near Loveland Pass, 11,992 feet above sea level, and into mountain villages. The only doctor in Idaho Springs treated several of the injured.
The survivors were taken to hospitals in Denver about 65 miles east of the crash scene.
Don Martin of Denver, who flew over the Rocky Mountain wreckage site, said the plane was still burning three hours after it went down.