Video Vault: 1979 Akron-Canton Airport plane crash killed Thurman Munson

Baseball great was pilot, two passengers survived

GREEN, Ohio - At 4:02 p.m. on Aug. 2, 1979, a plane piloted by New York Yankee great Thurman Munson crashed as it approached Akron-Canton Airport.

The 32-year-old Munson was killed, two friends aboard survived. Munson was practicing take offs and landings when the crash occurred.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report, the small jet, a Cessna Citation, landed 870 feet short of the runway in an open area, but slid into a small clump of trees. The plane hit a large stump and spun around before stopping.

The plane’s call sign, the number on its tail, was N15NY, Munson’s proud acknowledgement of his team and the number he wore, 15.

Munson was one of us, born in Akron, attended Kent State, lived in Canton, but went on to be the heart of the New York Yankees.

He was more than a catcher for the team, he was their captain.

His death was a loss to the baseball, New York and to all who loved him here at home.

Our video player contains the beginning of the WEWS 6 p.m. newscast on Aug. 2.

Ted Henry sadly relays the news of Munson’s death showing footage of him at a celebrity roast held the previous winter.

Ted tosses to Jay Bacchus aboard Chopper 5 showing live pictures of the crash scene. Bacchus cannot hear cues from the station due to the distance from our receive tower in Parma.

In those days, there were no gyro-stabilized cameras. We shot with a camera on a shoulder out the side door of the helicopter.

The television signal was sent from the chopper via a transmitting antenna handheld by an engineer pointed out the other side door toward our Parma receiver.

The signal was noisy but that didn’t matter on a tragedy of this scope.

ABC World News took our noisy, shaky chopper shot at the top of their 6:30 p.m. telecast.

Footage of the crash was shot by Bill Younkin, our Stark County stringer. He was out that afternoon and saw smoke near the airport not long after the crash. He carried his camera in the trunk of his car and shot this amazing footage of the plane and rescue workers at the scene.

I’ve added some aerials of the scene as well as Bacchus’ story filed for 11 p.m. newscast.

After an interview with a family member, Younkin’s story with an NTSB investigator from the next day completes our video.

Eight months later, the report concluded the crash was pilot error, stating "...the pilot's failure to recognize the need for, and take action to maintain, sufficient airspeed to prevent a stall into the ground during an attempted landing."

Munson’s number 15 was retired by the Yankees.

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