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Subject: ARCHIVE: It was 40 years today when New York Yankees team captain Thurman Munson, considered to be one of the best baseball players of the day, died when his twin-engine airplane crashed short of a runway landing

He'd bought it to fly back and forth to his family during baseball season
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Date Posted: Friday, August 02, 02:01:06pm

August 3, 1979,
The New York Times Archives

Thurman Munson, the 32‐year‐old catcher and team captain of the New York Yankees, was killed yesterday when the plane he was piloting crashed short of the runway while trying to land at the Akron‐Canton Airport in Ohio.

Two passengers who were flying with him were taken to local hospitals where they were reported in fair condition.

Mr. Munson's Cessna Citation twin‐engine jet crashed outside the perimeter of the airport and came to rest 200 feet north of runway. 19 at 3:02 P.M., Eastern daylight time, according to the Akron police.

Federal Aviation Administration officials said that the plane had lost its wings and burst into flames after the crash, resulting in injuries to two occupants and the death of the third.

Anthony Cardarelli,. sheriff of Summit County, confirnied that Mr. Munson was the one who was killed. •

Continue reading the main story

One of the two passengers, David Hall, 32, of Canton, who first taught Mr. Munson to fly, was reported in fair condition with burns on his arms and hands at the Akron Regional Burn Center at Children's Hospital. The other passenger,’ Jerry D. Anderson, also of Canton, was reported in fair condition with burns of the face, arms, and neck at Timken Mercy Hospital in Canton.

The F.A.A. authorities said the cause of the crash was unknown. Detective WilI iam Evans, who arrived at the scene five minutes after the crash said witnesses told him the jet began clipping trees as it approached the runway. It touched down just north of Greensburg Road, he said. Motorists had to “break for the plane,” he added. “It's a miracle people weren't injured during that time of the rush hour.”

Mr. Evans said Mr. Hall was in the co‐pilot seat, but “Munson had the plane to himself.”

“Both victims tried valiantly to get Munson out,” Mr. Evans added. He said the two men had about 30 seconds to try to free the Yankee star before the plane “went up in flames.” One victim kicked out the emergency door while the other tried to pull Mr. Munson free. They succeeded in removing him from the pilot's. seat, investigators said. However, Mr. Evans said that when the door opened “fuel, which was stored in the wing, ignited and engulfed the plane.”

The two men tried to free Mr. Munson again, Mr. Evans said, “but the fire got so bad they had to get out. I think some of their clothes were on fire.”

Carl Santelli, a friend of Munson's in Canton, said the Yankee star had come in from Chicago at 3 A.M. yesterday. “He said his plane wasn't acting right,” said Mr. Santelli, “and he was going out to find out what was wrong with it.”

A Cessna spokesman said the plane, which was lettered NYI5, corresponding to its owner's Yankee jersey number, was the first Citation in the country to be involved in an accident.

Neal Callahan of the F.A.A.'s Chicago office said the plane “had been engaged in some touch‐and‐go practice takeoffs and landings” when the crash occurred.

Munson, a native of Akron, often flew home during home stands and road trips ttzt be with his family. A Yankee coach, Elston Howard, said Munson told him he was ‘interested in running a commercial commuter airline and was studying for a special license.

The coach said Mr. Munson wanted to stay as close to his family as possible. “That's why he told me he was flying home on his own plane on off days. He just said, ‘Ellie, I want to see my family.’ That's what he told me.”

Munson, who batted over 300 five times and played on three Yankee pennant winners and two world championship teams, was the first Yankee captain since Lou Gehrig.

In his autobiography, written in 1978, he had described his love of flying. “I have a new love to make things somewhat more pleasant for me this year —airplanes. I studied for my pilot's license and received It during the winter. Now…it's possible to fly from New York to Canton in about an hour and I frequently go home even during home stands.”

The police were at his home in Canton, where Mr. Munson's wife, Diane, and the couple's.,,three children, Tracy Lynn, 9; Kelly, 7, and Michael 4, received news of the crash.

John Habermann, a flight instructor at Teterboro Airport in Bergen County, N.J., said he considered Mr. Munson “a fine pilot.”

“He would study his airplane well,” Mr. Habermann said. “He took it very seriously and was a very dedicated pilot.”

News of the death shocked the baseball world.

The Yankees’ principal owner, George Steinbrenner, said in a statement: “There's very little I could say to adequately express my feelings at this moment. I've lost a dear friend, a pal and one of the greatest competitors I've ever known. We spent many hours together talking baseball, and business. He loved his family. He was our leader. The great sport that made him so famous seems so very small and unimportant now.”

Martin ‘Loved Him’

Billy Martin, the Yankee manager, said: “For those who never knew him and didn't like him, I feel sorry for them. He was a great man, for his family, friends and all the people who knew and loved him, my deepest sympathy. We not only lost a great competitor, but a leader and a husband and devoted family man. He was a close friend, I loved him.”

Commissioner Bowie Kuhn called the crash “in almost indescribable loss.”

“He was a wonderful enormously likable guy and a truly great ballplayer,” the commissioner said. “As tough a competitor as he was on the field he was a warm friend of baseball people and a loving family man. Baseball sends its heartfelt sympathy to his wife and children.

Gabe Paul, the former Yankee president, said he was shocked. “I coveted him as a player. That goes without saying. I just keep thinking to myself how much he wanted to play here and how close he would have been to home.” Cleveland is about 95 miles from Canton.

Munson was an all‐America catcher at Kent State in 1968. He came to the Yankees in 1969 and was rookie of the year in 1970. He won a Gold Glove Award in 1973, 1979 and 1975. He won the American League Most Valuable Player Award in 1976 and was named captain of the Yankees that year.

The Yankees have scheduled a team meeting today to decide what action to take. The funeral will be held in CanIv). Arrangements are indefinite.

Munson's Career Record


Born June 7, 1947. at Akron. 0. Height. 5.0. Weight, 190, Throws and bats righthanded. Attended Kent State University. Kent. 0.

Led American League catchers in double plays with 14 in 1975 and tied for lead with II in 1973.

Named Most Valuable Player in American league. 1976.

Selected by the Baseball Writers’ Association as American League Rookie of the Year. 1970.

Named catcher on THE SPORTING News American League Alt‐Star Team. 1973. 1974. 1975 and 1076.

Named catcher on THE SPORTING NEWS American League All‐Star fielding team. 1973. 1974 and 1975.

Named American League Player of the Year by THE SPORTING NEWS, 1976.

Received 875.000 bonus to sign with New York Yankees, 1968.

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Subject Author Date
I remember seeing a Munson documentary years ago, where the surviving friends from the crash tried in vain to pull him from the cockpit, but his legs were wedged, leaving him to burn alive in the plane. (NT)Horrific end, to a great guy.Friday, August 02, 02:13:48pm
There had been talk of trading him to Cleveland at the end of that season, to finish his career closer to home. (NT)Ed TraceySaturday, August 03, 08:23:49pm

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