Moment of Indiana History

The Night It Rained Tears

1977 was a year of excitement for men’s basketball at the University of Evansville. But on December 13, the season of new beginnings came to a tragic end.

University of Evansville Plane Crash, December 13, 1977

Photo: Associated Press File Photo

Crew members search the wreckage of chartered airliner N51071, a DC-3 that had crashed in Evansville on Dec. 13, 1977. The crash killed all 29 people aboard.

1977 was a year of excitement for men’s basketball at the University of Evansville. The school was playing its first season at the division one level with a new coach and a group of talented, young players ready to guide the Aces into a new era for the school and the city.

But on December 13, 1977, the season of new beginnings came to a tragic end when a plane chartered to take the team to a game in Murfreesboro, Tennessee crashed just 90 seconds after takeoff from Dress Regional Airport. All 29 on board were killed.

Witnesses said the DC-3 struggled to gain altitude on takeoff and clipped a tree in a neighboring subdivision before crashing into a hillside. Emergency crews arriving at the scene found bodies still strapped into their seats strewn across the area.

Authorities set up a makeshift morgue in a community center downtown, where the bodies of the Aces, coach Bobby Watson, and other team personnel were taken by a railroad car.

A headline in the Evansville Sunday Courier and Press dubbed December 13th, “The Night it Rained Tears.”

A National Transportation Safety Board investigation determined the crash was caused by a rudder control lock that was not removed prior to takeoff.

Ironically, one player who did not make the trip due to an ankle injury was killed in an auto accident two weeks after the plane crash.

Today, a memorial plaza on the University of Evansville campus honors those who died in the crash. A fountain there is said to resemble a “weeping basketball.”

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