MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (WKRN) — On Tuesday, 45 years ago, a plane carrying the men’s basketball team for the University of Evansville crashed, tragically taking the lives of everyone onboard.
On December 13, 1977, Evansville Aces players, coaches, supporters and flight crew boarded a chartered DC-3 plane to travel to Murfreesboro for a game against Middle Tennessee.
Just one minute after taking off, at 7:22 p.m., the charter flight crashed, killing all 29 individuals.
“Every time I fly, I think about that,” former MTSU basketball coach and athletic director Jimmy Earle said.
The anniversary brings back many memories for many, including Earle who was the men’s basketball coach at the time. He says the plane crash still weighs on his mind all these years later.
“At that time, all the mid-majors, all they could afford usually were charter DC-3 and they weren’t the best in the world. They weren’t that reliable,” Earle said.
The National Transportation Safety Board’s report the following year revealed that two critical locks were not removed from the exterior of the plane before taking off, which made it impossible for the pilot to keep the plane in the air.
“It was a very sad day. We had a memorial service inside Murphy Center for the victims, and it was a very sad time,” Earle said.
Middle Tennessee honored everyone lost in the crash on their basketball court the following night. Earle said nearly every seat was filled by community members showing their support.
“Well, it’s eerie. That’s the best word to describe it. You’re having a shootaround, and you go on a scouting report, and the team is not there you’re going to play. It’s sad and it’s also an eerie feeling,” Earle said.
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Completely heartbroken and devastated over the news is how Earle described the general emotion among the team.
Every time he and his players stepped onto another plane following the crash, he said the thought of all the victims stayed in the back of their minds.
“It brings more doubt into your mind and you worry about going and flying and doing things,” Earle said.
The University of Evansville planned two special memorial services on campus for the 45th anniversary of the tragedy. Both services included a reading of the victims’ names, a ringing of a peace bell, and a moment of silence at 7:22 p.m. to honor the moment of the crash.
For those who can’t make it to the services, you can learn more about each of the victims through photos and a live stream from the first service on the University of Evansville Alumni Association Facebook page and the second service will be live streamed via the UE Music Conservatory YouTube channel.