Before a game the Cal Poly football team touches the rock.
The crash happened before some of their parents were born, yet the tradition continues 50 years later. The memorial carries the names of the sixteen football players and student manager who died October 29, 1960 in a Toledo, Ohio airplane crash. Five others also died and 22 were injured of the forty-eight on board the aircraft.
One of the badly injured was then Telegram-Tribune sports editor Johnny Nettleship.
The plaque has an identical twin in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum placed when the Mercy Bowl was held there a year later to raise money for the victims families.
Bill Morem has a story in today’s Tribune, this post was written ten years ago by a reporter who was a Cal Poly student at the time.
Published: Sunday, October 29, 2000
GOOD FRIENDS, GOOD ATHLETES AND GOOD MEN
by Carol Roberts
My 36-year-old son is named for Curtis Hill, an outstanding football player, who died in the Cal Poly plane crash 40 years ago today.
Hill, a popular Mustang receiver, was the kind of person I hoped my son would be – a warm, giving, intelligent friend with a ready hand and ear. Fullback Don O’Meara, who also died in the crash, was another good friend.
Their funerals – Hill’s sad-but-stirring memorial in Bakersfield, and O’Meara’s high Mass in Madera – were the first such moving events I’d attended. Their families opened their spare bedrooms – and their hearts – to all the students who traveled for final tributes.
Some of my memories of the crash and its aftermath here may be hazy, but a tragedy involving so many is impossible to forget.
I was editor of Cal Poly’s newspaper, El Mustang, and was attending a wedding that Saturday in Sacramento when the charter plane went down. I got a call to get back to San Luis Obispo immediately.
Everyone at the wedding, which included several Poly students, was stunned. We found a radio to hear more of the horrible news. At first it was announced that 47 of 48 people on the plane were dead. Those exaggerated reports continued as we broke speed limits getting back to school.
We learned that those same erroneous reports had initially been given out in Mustang Stadium during the San Luis Obispo High School game, as well as at a downtown theater Saturday night. Word came much later that 22 were dead.
Students gathered in dorms and other spots on campus. There was the combined feeling of shock, helplessness, despair and a need to be together.
There were only about 4,700 of us then compared to the nearly 17,000 students now. We may have had our separate academic departments and interests, but most of us went to the Mustangs’ games. And, even if we didn’t know all the players personally, they were part of our college “family.” Hundreds of townspeople also followed the team and attended its home games.
Cal Poly vice president Bob Kennedy and his staff set up temporary quarters in the Telegram-Tribune the night of the crash to get up-to-the minute wire service reports out to families of the players. The newspaper put out a special “extra” edition the next day. Its own sports editor, Johnny Nettleship, was severely injured in the crash.
My future husband Don Roberts, who died of melanoma a decade ago, was Cal Poly’s athletic publicist and was supposed to have been on the plane. But his father became ill and Don sent his assistant Wendell Miner. Wendell died in the crash. Don was dazed and shaken as he helped put out the Telegram-Tribune’s Sunday “extra.” He told friends: “It should have been me.”
The El Mustang newspaper office in the basement of the old Administration Building continued to be a center of campus information through the following week. Kennedy, a former newsman, was a frequent visitor who told us we didn’t have to talk to the dozens of reporters from outside the area. (Kennedy replaced Julian McPhee as president in 1967 and retired in 1979).
A few of those national and international reporters and photographers gave us good lessons in what not to do as journalists – such as the photographer from Paris Match who climbed over the backyard fence of Ray Porras’ home to capture the grieving widow and her children though a window.
We wanted to lynch him.
Through the years, Don kept in touch with some of the crash survivors and never forgot those the 1961 yearbook, “El Rodeo,” called “forever young.”
He didn’t just tell our son about Hill’s athletic achievements. (Hill will be inducted posthumously this year into Cal Poly’s Hall of Fame). Don told our Curtis about Hill’s great sportsmanship, sense of humor, easygoing personality and willingness to help others.
I wish Curtis Roberts could have known Curtis Hill. But I’m proud there’s a popular third-grade teacher in Sacramento who not only has the first name, but also the traits of someone so fine.
Carol (Bucher) Roberts covered the South County for The Tribune and worked at the paper for more than 25 years. She retired in March 2005.
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