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Published: Tuesday, 8/27/2002

Cal Poly revisits Toledo, tragedy


Al Marinai is 62 now and walks with a cane. He has a brace on his right leg, and a bone in his left foot has been fused.

“I've been suffering for almost 42 years now,” says Mr. Marinai, who lives in San Francisco. “I'm in pain all the time.”

Gil Stork turns 60 on Monday. He has had four hip-replacement surgeries, and his body aches every time he walks.

“I've had a lot of problems with my hips, and I've been in pain for a lot of years,” says Mr. Stork, the vice president/assistant superintendent of Cuesta College in Paso Robles, Calif. “Sometimes the pain is excruciating.”

And Mr. Marinai and Mr. Stork are lucky.

They survived the Oct. 29, 1960, airplane crash that killed 22 people, including 16 California State Polytechnic College football players, a student manager, and booster at Toledo Express Airport, after a game at Bowling Green. On Thursday, a Cal Poly football team returns to Toledo for the first time since that tragic crash.

Most of the 26 survivors aboard the chartered C46 twin-engine Arctic Pacific Air Lines plane, which crashed shortly after takeoff at 11:02 p.m., were seated in the tail section.

Ted Tollner, 62, was among them. Severe leg injuries prevented him from playing in the NFL, but he is now a coach for the San Francisco 49ers after head coaching stints at Southern California and San Diego State.

“Oct. 29, 1960, took a toll on a lot of us,” Mr. Tollner says. “It's a day none of us will ever forget.”

Talk about a twist of fate: Mr. Tollner, Cal Poly's quarterback, had switched seats with wide receiver Curtis Hill, who asked to sit near the front of the plane instead of on the left wing.

“Everybody from my spot back lived, and everyone in front of me was killed, including Curtis,” Mr. Tollner says.

Mr. Tollner does not look back at the seat switch from the angle that Mr. Hill should have survived and he shouldn't have.

“You feel bad about every life that was lost,” Mr. Tollner says. “I never really put it in that perspective and the tradeoff. We lost a lot of friends in that tragedy. You just try to be productive with your life and make the fact that you're still alive a positive force on whomever you're trying to influence.”

The Cal Poly crash was the worst sports air disaster at that time and the first accident at Toledo Express, which had opened six years earlier.

“I haven't flown in a plane since then, and I never will,” says Mr. Marinai, who was hospitalized for three years after the wreck, while being confined to a wheelchair. “Even when I'm dead, I don't want my casket in an airplane.”

GIl Stork was seriously injured in the crash and has suffered 'excruciating' pain. Before each home game, Cal Poly's players pay tribute to the 1960 team at the memorial rock. GIl Stork was seriously injured in the crash and has suffered 'excruciating' pain. Before each home game, Cal Poly's players pay tribute to the 1960 team at the memorial rock.
JJ Enlarge

Forty-one football seasons later, a Cal Poly football team returns to Toledo for another game. This time it is opening its season against the University of Toledo at the Glass Bowl.

None of the 1960 survivors plans to be in attendance, but they still have heavy hearts for Toledo. Mr. Marinai desperately wanted to make the trip, but the train schedule didn't cooperate.

“I wanted to come back and go to all the hospitals and kiss all the nurses and thank them for taking such good care of us,” says Mr. Marinai, who spent eight months in Toledo Hospital after the crash. “I'd love to be there for the game too, and be close to all the action.”

“The generosity and support and love we got in Toledo was amazing, and I have never forgotten that,” Mr. Stork says. “I was 19 and a long way from home. I was hurt pretty badly, and I didn't know anybody. But the people at the hospitals took care of us and made sure our needs were met first.”

Cal Poly, entering its ninth season in Division I-AA, is coming off a 6-5 campaign after three consecutive three-win seasons. The Rockets will be the first Division I-A team the Mustangs have played in four seasons.

“When I heard Cal Poly was playing Toledo, my initial reaction was, ‘My gosh, what are they doing?'” says Carl Bowser, 65, a crash survivor who retired as Bakersfield (Calif.) College's football coach and athletic director in 1994.

“I admire Cal Poly's decision to come back there and play again. It took a lot of guts for someone to pull the trigger on that one. The crash set our football program back 25 years or so. And they're just now kind of getting it straightened out.”

Cal Poly was a late addition to UT's schedule after Southern Illinois backed out of a scheduled game. “When I called Cal Poly they were very receptive to coming here,” said UT athletic director Mike O'Brien, well aware of the history.

Receptive with one provision: Cal Poly officials insisted on flying into Detroit's Metro Airport instead of Toledo Express. The team will leave for Toledo tomorrow and return home Friday.

“I think flying into Detroit is the right thing to do,” Mr. Bowser says. “Flying into Toledo - I'm not sure anybody at Cal Poly will ever be comfortable with that.”

Perrysburg's Martha Hogle is the widow of a Toledo police officer who was called to the crash. Ths summer, she fulfilled her desire to visit Cal Poly's campus in San Luis Obispo, Calif. Perrysburg's Martha Hogle is the widow of a Toledo police officer who was called to the crash. Ths summer, she fulfilled her desire to visit Cal Poly's campus in San Luis Obispo, Calif.
BLADE Enlarge

Halloween was observed on the night of Saturday, Oct. 29, 1960.

Earlier that afternoon Cal Poly had lost to Bowling Green 50-6. After the game the Cal Poly and Bowling Green players had dinner together at the B.G. student union; the Mustangs boarded buses for Toledo Express about 8 p.m.

En route to the airport, coach Roy Hughes told the team the plane would try to take off as scheduled, despite heavy fog that made visibility very poor.

“Everything was going against us,” Mr. Marinai says. “The weather was awful. It was so foggy you could barely see anything. And because the airport had already been closed due to the fog, we, the players, had to load the plane and push it out of the hangar and onto the runway.

“When we finally got on the plane, we waited a little bit to see whether we were going to take off or not because of the weather.”

“After about an hour, I remember coach [Hughes] coming on the plane and telling us to buckle up,” Mr. Stork says. “He said, ‘We're going to give it the old college try.'” Mr. Hughes survived.

As the plane warmed up, the left engine almost conked out, the players recalled. But both engines were running smoothly when the plane finally took off, they said.

Survivors said the craft fishtailed as it rolled down the runway. It climbed to about 100 feet before it fell to the left, its tail flipping over its nose. The plane crashed and broke into two pieces, and the front end burst into flames.

“When I heard the left engine go out right after takeoff, I thought, ‘Oh, no,'” says Mr. Bowser, a fullback and team captain in 1960. “The next thing I knew, we were falling very quickly from the sky. We were expecting the worst, and that's exactly what we got.”

The Ohio National Guard was having a Halloween party at the other end of the runway, and guardsmen were first on the scene. Some airlines' personnel still at the terminal threaded their way to the wreckage, but they could not see through the fog, even though it was only a few hundred yards away.

Twenty-four of the 26 survivors were injured, many seriously. Twelve were taken to Toledo Hospital, nine to Mercy, and three to Maumee Valley.

“The first day or two in the hospital, nobody really knew what had happened,” Mr. Stork says. “We knew there were some deaths, but we didn't know how many.”

“We were all young kids then, and we all had big dreams and aspirations,” says Mr. Bowser, who later had a tryout with the Oakland Raiders. “For 16 players, those dreams and aspirations all ended in just a few short seconds.”

After the plane hit the ground, Mr. Tollner tried to run but his left foot was caught in a foot rest. Eventually, Mr. Bowser and another teammate, Dick McBride, dragged Mr. Tollner away from the burning plane.

Mr. Tollner spent 10 days in the hospital. His legs eventually healed to the point that he returned as Cal Poly's quarterback. School officials wanted to cancel the 1961 season - as they had done with the final three games of the 1960 season - but Mr. Tollner and the Mustangs fought through it and finished 5-3.

Mr. Marinai, a 240-pound tackle, had been considered an NFL prospect before the crash. Lou Groza of the Cleveland Browns had been at the B.G. game scouting him, along with Mr. Hill, the receiver. But Mr. Marinai suffered a broken skull, broken ankle, broken knee, and broken back in the crash and never played football again.

Mr. Stork fractured his back and had numerous cuts and lacerations. By his mid-30s he was walking with the aid of crutches.

“There's barely a day goes by where I don't think about that crash,” Mr. Stork says.

And Mr. Marinai, who used arm crutches and a walker to get to his draftsman's desk at Standard Oil Co. in San Francisco eventually was awarded $271,695 in damages after years of legal hassles; Mr. Tollner was awarded $32,500. Other survivors received much smaller amounts of money.

Arctic Pacific went out of business after the crash. The Civil Aeronautics Board eventually closed its investigation by ruling that the tragedy was a result of faulty judgment on the part of the pilot, Donald L.J. Chesher. Under CAB regulations at the time, it was the pilot who had the final say on whether or not a plane took off.

The CAB investigation showed that the plane took off “in weather conditions of nine-tenths partial sky obstruction; zero visibility in fog, and weighing approximately 2,000 pounds more than its certified gross weight of 47,100 pounds.”

It was later revealed that several months before the crash, the Federal Aviation Administration had revoked Chesher's airline pilot rating after a hearing in which it was determined that he had violated regulations and demonstrated a lack of care, responsibility, and judgment.

“You can't help but still think of your dead teammates - what they could have been, what they could have done,” Mr. Marinai says. “There were a lot of broken hearts then, and there are still a lot now.”

Including that of 1959 Cal Poly graduate and longtime NFL television analyst John Madden, now on Monday Night Football.

“I was two years removed from [the accident], but those guys were all my teammates when I played there. They were freshmen and sophomores when I was a senior."

“They were still all my friends, and I knew them all. That was a really tough thing.” he said in a somber tone. “And it has stayed with all of us forever.”

The next year, on Nov. 23, 1961, Bowling Green and Fresno State played in the Mercy Bowl - the Bulldogs won 36-6 - in remembrance of the Cal Poly team. The game raised $200,000 for the surviving widows and children to dedicate a memorial in their honor.

For years Mr. Marinai would not return to Cal Poly's San Luis Obispo campus. He finally went back in July, 2000, for the first time in 40 years, attending an all-sports reunion.

He has been back a handful of times since, including this past June 22, when he met Perrysburg resident Martha Hogle, 68, the widow of an off-duty Toledo police officer who was called to the scene of the 1960 accident, along with many others.

“We saw a report on television that there had been a plane crash at Toledo Express Airport,” says Mrs. Hogle, whose husband, Bob, died in 1975. “They asked all policemen and emergency personnel to report to the scene immediately. I was expecting a baby at any moment, and I wasn't too happy that Bob had to leave.”

Two days later, while her husband was visiting the victims and helping assist them, Mrs. Hogle gave birth to a son.

Through the years Mrs. Hogle often thought about visiting Cal Poly's campus to better understand the tragedy. This summer, she finally did so.

She and Mr. Marinai met for the first time at “The Rock,” a memorial to the victims of the crash. The bronzed plaque is positioned in a large blue and brown rock underneath the flagpole in Cal Poly's Mustang Stadium. “Al cried and he hugged me and he kept saying, ‘Thank you, thank you,' for coming,'” Mrs. Hogle says. “He said it could have been your husband that helped me get out.”

After Mrs. Hogle and Mr. Marinai touched the rock together, she read a proclamation from Toledo Mayor Jack Ford and presented the school with a glass goblet from the people of Toledo inscribed with the city's name.

Before each home game, Cal Poly's players pay tribute to the 1960 team at the memorial rock. For each road trip, the team will load up the buses at the stadium and then stop and touch the rock before leaving campus.

“The crash is not ancient history in our minds; it's still very much alive,” coach Rich Ellerson says. “It's a part of our history; so we honor it before every game by touching the rock.”

Cal Poly plans to further recognize the crash victims by renaming its field “Mustang Memorial Stadium.” That could happen as early as 2004, when the first phase of an $8.5-million renovation project is scheduled to be completed.

A Memorial Plaza is planned at the stadium. It will recognize the victims and survivors.

“I think it's a little overdue,” Mr. Stork says, “but it's better late than never. The plane crash is a significant piece of the Cal Poly's history. I think every generation of athletes at the school should honor it and not be allowed to forget it.”

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