A Comair plane carrying Marshall University football coaches made an emergency landing at Blue Grass Airport on Wednesday, spooking staff members who recalled the plane crash that killed most of the West Virginia university's football team in 1970, a coach said.
Phil Ratliff, Marshall's tight ends coach, told the Herald-Dispatch in Huntington, W.Va., that the plane was approaching the Charleston, W.Va., airport when the landing gear apparently wouldn't go down.
Much of Marshall's coaching staff had been at Texas Christian University or Mississippi State to visit the coaching staffs there when they met up in Atlanta to fly back to Charleston together, Ratliff said. The plane carried eight coaches; Lexington fire department Battalion Chief Marshall Griggs said he thought there were 38 people aboard.
Head coach Doc Holliday was not on the flight, the Herald-Dispatch said.
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"On our way back, we kept circling flying into Charleston — three times," Ratliff told the newspaper. The pilot "went back up in the air, and we knew something was wrong."
Ratliff said the flight crew told passengers the plane was being diverted to Lexington because its airport had a bigger runway. He said passengers inferred that a crash-landing was possible.
Passengers were calm but praying as the plane entered its final descent at Blue Grass Airport; Ratliff said he could see flashing emergency lights of fire trucks and ambulances parked near the runway.
As the plane descended, the landing gear suddenly extended, Ratliff said. The plane landed safely, and no one was injured.
The startled coaches rented a car from the airport, choosing to drive the rest of the way to Huntington, Ratliff told the Herald-Dispatch.
On Nov. 14, 1970, a plane bringing the Marshall football team home from a game against East Carolina crashed, killing 75 people, including coaches, most of the team and fans.
The event hit home for Ratliff, a two-time All-America for Marshall who is originally from Louisa. Ratliff told the Herald-Dispatch he was only 2 days old when the crash occurred outside of Tri-State Airport, about 30 minutes from his hometown.
"You grow up hearing about this for 40 years," Ratliff told the Herald-Dispatch. "It was a situation that you never want to go — thinking about your family, having your life go before your eyes. It was just unbelievable."
Ratliff said Wednesday's flight had been delayed all day because a previous flight had maintenance problems, and Comair brought in a new plane.
Amy Caudill, a spokeswoman for Blue Grass Airport, said the airport received a call for assistance from Comair Flight 5359 Wednesday evening. The plane touched down about 6:15 p.m. with no problems, she said. A spokesman for Delta Air Lines, the parent company of Comair, did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Griggs, the battalion chief, said the fire department was called to the airport before the plane arrived.
"We were turned away after they landed," Griggs said. "We were very relieved that that was the case."
On Aug. 27, 2006, Comair Flight 5191 crashed at Blue Grass Airport after it took off from the wrong runway. Forty-nine of the 50 people aboard were killed.
In addition to Ratliff, the Marshall coaches aboard the flight were offensive coordinator Bill Legg, quarterbacks coach Tony Petersen, running backs coach and recruiting coordinator JaJuan Seider, wide receivers coach Gerad Parker, defensive coordinator Chris Rippon, safeties coach Todd Hartley and secondary coach Mike Cassity, according to the Herald-Dispatch.