One of the few survivors of a 1970 plane crash that killed 31 people from Wichita State University, including members of the school's football team, is planning to ride his bicycle from Wichita to the Colorado crash site to honor those who perished.


One of the few survivors of a 1970 plane crash that killed 31 people from Wichita State University, including members of the school's football team, is planning to ride his bicycle from Wichita to the Colorado crash site to honor those who perished.

Rick Stephens, 63, will leave Wichita Saturday morning and bike 550 miles. He plans to arrive at the crash site on Mount Trelease, 40 miles west of Denver, on Oct. 2, the 41st anniversary of the crash. Along the way he will plant small flags carrying the names of the football players, coaches, administrators and boosters who died, The Wichita Eagle reported Friday (http://bit.ly/pwwLtx ).

Stephens, a tackle on the team, was one of nine survivors. He plans to ride alone and stay in motels along the way.

He also is hoping to raise money for a scholarship fund for family members of those who died.

"This is a piece of Wichita State history," Stephens said. "It's not a centerpiece of what this community is, but my effort will help remind people that there was a tragedy that took place and it needs to be remembered."

The small yellow and black flags bearing the name of each victim will include two teammates who have since died — fellow survivor Randy Jackson, who died last year of pancreatic cancer, and John "Mike" Noel, who was on a second team plane the day of the crash.

Stephens said he has confidence in his bike and will be inspired by memories of the crash victims.

"Whatever challenges I face are insignificant compared to the challenges and struggles of the people they left behind," he said.

Stephens wants to raise money for the 1970 Football Memorial Scholarship established for the immediate family members of the crash victims, as well as the survivors and their families. Donations may be made through the WSU Foundation.

Stephens said he doesn't often dwell on details of the crash, which happened shortly after takeoff from Denver's Stapleton Airport on the way to Logan, Utah, where the Shockers were to play Utah State.

He realized the plane was not gaining altitude and went to the cockpit to see what was happening. He saw the pilots going over a topographical map and wondering what they were going to do. Suddenly, the plane banked and Stephens found himself on the ground outside the plane. He says if he had been in his seat, he would have died.

"Not only was I spared being seriously injured, but I was spared from what must be the horrific memory of climbing out of that airplane and seeing friends and teammates trapped underneath the debris, most of them still conscious," Stephens said.

Stephens spent six weeks in a Denver hospital with broken bones and torn ligaments. After coming down with an infection, he transferred to a Wichita hospital, where he spent another 5½ weeks.

A report by the National Transportation Safety Board said the accident happened because the pilots took an unplanned "scenic route," and flew the plane into a box canyon at an altitude that didn't allow it to clear the mountains. They had flown so far into the canyon it was too narrow to turn around. The team's second plane made it to Logan by taking the planned route..

"I am extremely blessed to have been spared, and certainly humbled by the fact some very wonderful people were lost," Stephens said. "You try to make sense of that, but you really can't. It's a matter of fate, chance, or maybe some spiritual intervention."