Southern Airways Flight 932 was a chartered Southern Airways Douglas DC-9 domestic United States commercial jet flight from Stallings Field (ISO) in Kinston, North Carolina, to Huntington Tri-State Airport/Milton J. Ferguson Field (HTS) near Kenova and Ceredo, West Virginia. At 7:36 p.m. on November 14, 1970, the aircraft crashed into a hill just short of the Tri-State Airport, killing all 75 people on board in what has been recognized as “the worst sports related air tragedy in U.S. history”. 
|A Southern Airways Douglas DC-9 similar to the aircraft involved in the accident|
|Date||November 14, 1970|
|Summary||Controlled flight into terrain due to pilot error|
|Site||On approach to runway 11 at Tri-State Airport in Huntington, West Virginia, United States |
|Aircraft type||Douglas DC-9-31|
|Flight origin||Kinston Regional Jetport|
The plane was carrying 37 members of the Marshall University Thundering Herd football team, eight members of the coaching staff, 25 boosters, and five flight crew members. The team was returning home after a 17–14 loss to the East Carolina Pirates at Ficklen Stadium in Greenville, North Carolina.
At the time, Marshall’s athletic teams rarely traveled by plane, since most away games were within easy driving distance of the campus. The team originally planned to cancel the flight, but changed plans and chartered the Southern Airways DC-9. The accident is the deadliest tragedy affecting any sports team in U.S. history. It was the second college football team plane crash in a little over a month. Wichita State‘s team plane crashed in Colorado just 43 days earlier killing 14 players and 31 people overall.
The original proposal to charter the flight was refused because it would exceed “the takeoff limitations of their aircraft. The subsequent negotiations resulted in a reduction of the weight of passengers and baggage…and the charter flight was scheduled.” The airliner left Stallings Field at Kinston, North Carolina, and the flight proceeded to Huntington without incident. The crew established radio contact with air traffic controllers at 7:23 pm with instructions to descend to 5,000 feet. The controllers advised the crew that there was “rain, fog, smoke and a ragged ceiling” at the airport, making landing more difficult but possible. At 7:34 p.m., the airliner’s crew reported passing Tri-State Airport’s outer marker. The controller gave them clearance to land. The aircraft began its normal descent after passing the outer marker, but did not arrest its descent and hold altitude at 1240 ft, as required by the assigned instrument approach procedure. Instead, the descent continued for another 300 ft for unknown reasons, apparently without either crewmember actually seeing the airport lights or runway. In the transcript of their cockpit communications in the final minutes, the pilots briefly debated that their autopilot had “captured” for a glide slope descent, although the airport was only equipped with a localizer. The report also noted that the craft approached a refinery in the final 30 seconds before impact, which “could have…affected…a visual illusion produced by the difference in the elevation of the refinery and the airport,” which was nearly 300 ft higher than the refinery–and that only after a craft would pass over a few intervening hills. The co-pilot, monitoring the altimeter called out, “It’s beginning to lighten up a little bit on the ground here at…seven hundred feet…. We’re two hundred above [the descent vector],” and the charter coordinator replied, “Bet ‘ll be a missed approach.” The corresponding flight recorder shows that the craft descended another 220 ft in elevation within these 12 seconds, and the co-pilot calls out “four hundred” and agrees with the pilot they are on the correct “approach.” However, in the next second the co-pilot quickly calls out new readings, “hundred and twenty-six … HUNDRED,” and the sounds of impact immediately follow.
The airliner continued on final approach to Tri-State Airport when it collided with the tops of trees on a hillside 5,543 feet (1,690 m) west of runway 11 (now runway 12). The plane burst into flames and created a swath of charred ground 95 feet (29 m) wide and 279 feet (85 m) long. According to the official NTSB report, the accident was “unsurvivable”. The aircraft “dipped to the right, almost inverted and had crashed into a hollow ‘nose-first'”. By the time the plane came to a stop, it was 4,219 feet (1,286 m) short of the runway and 275 feet (84 m) south of the middle marker. Although the airport runway has since been lengthened past its original threshold, making historical measurements more difficult, the NTSB official report provides that “the accident occurred during hours of darkness at 22′ 27″ N. latitude and 82° 34′ 42″ W. longitude.” The report additionally notes, “most of the fuselage was melted or reduced to a powder-like substance; however, several large pieces were scattered throughout the burned area.” The remains of six passengers were never identified.
The National Transportation Safety Board investigated the accident and their final report was issued on April 14, 1972. In the report the NTSB concluded that the probable cause was that “…the accident was the result of a descent below Minimum Descent Altitude during a nonprecision approach under adverse operating conditions, without visual contact with the runway environment…”. They further stated, “The Board has not been able to determine the reason for the (greater) descent, although the two most likely explanations are an improper use of cockpit instrumentation data, or (b) an altimetry system error.” At least one source says that water that had seeped into the plane’s altimeter could have thrown off its height readings, leading the pilots to believe the plane was higher than was actually the case.
The board made three recommendations as a result of this accident, including recommendations for heads-up displays, ground proximity warning devices, and surveillance and inspection of flight operations.