HUNTINGTON, W. Va. -- A chartered airliner carrying 75 persons, including the Marshall University football team and coaching staff, crashed and burned in light fog and rain Saturday night near the Tri-State Airport in the Appalachian Mountains.
Police, airport and university officials said it appeared there were no survivors.
It appeared to be the worst air accident involving a college football team. Thirty-one persons, including 14 Wichita State University players, were killed last Oct. 2 when their airliner crashed in the Colorado Rockies. In 1960, a plane crash in Toledo, Ohio, killed 22 persons including 16 members of the California State Polytechnic College team.
The Federal Aviation Agency said the plane, a chartered Southern Airways DC9, carried 70 passengers, a crew of four and a baggage handler.
The pilot was making an approach to the airport's Runway 11 when the crash occurred at about 7:40 p.m. EST, after a 40-minute flight from Kinston, N.C. The Marshall team played East Carolina College at Greenville, N.C., and lost, 17-14.
There was a 300-foot ceiling and visibility was five miles, the FAA said.
The plane came down about one and one-half miles from the airport, near where Interstate 64 crosses the Big Sandy River into Kentucky.
The Appalachians rise to a height of about 1,000 feet in the area.
Mrs. Minnie Ramey was hosting a shower for an expectant mother at her house, only 200 feet from the crash scene.
"We heard the plane and we yent to the windows to pull back the curtains and look," Mrs. Ramey said.
"It sounded like something was wrong with the plane. It sort of whistled, and then it turned the sky red. The whole sky was lit up. It looked to us like the plane was breaking apart before it hit," Mrs. Ramey said.
An area resident, Mrs. Don Bailey, said, "I heard the plane overhead. Then it made a funny sound. I went to the back porch and saw a streak of fire and then an explosion. My house shook. Then it seemed like there was nothing but fire in the sky."
Mrs. Bailey's husband said, "I don't see how anybody could have gotten out of that plane."
Steve Stanley, air traffic control specialist at the airport, said he was on the field "taking a breather" at the time of the crash.
"I saw a large ball of fire, an explosion, about two miles from Runway 11," Stanley said.
Other eyewitnesses reported the plane struck the top of a hill, skidded down into a valley and exploded in fire.
State Policeman W. F. Donohoe, one of nine troopers at the crash scene, said the wreckage still burned two hours after the crash.
"It would be a miracle if anyone survived," Donohoe said.
A spokesman for Marshall University, which has a student body of 9,100 and is located in Huntington, said the plane carried 37 football players, members of the coaching staff, a West Virginia State Assemblyman, a Huntington television station sportscaster and members of the "Big Green Boosters Club." The Marshall team's nicknames are "Thundering Herd" and "Big Green."
At Lexington, Ky., about 100 miles from Huntington, an airliner carrying the University of Kentucky football team from a game in Tampa, Fla., narrowly escaped an accident at the Blue Grass Airport. The airliner was taxiing when a jet commander plane crashed and burned on the same runway, killing two persons. The jet commander crashed in full view of the airliner's passengers.
East Carolina Athletic Director John Montague said Marshall Athletic Director Charles Kautz and Marshall Coach Rick Toliey were aboard the plane, which left Kinston at 6:38 p.m. EST.
The Marshall team, depleted because of a recent recruiting scandal and Mid-American Conference suspension, opened the season with a 40-man squad.