California Polytechnic State University football team plane crash

On October 29, 1960, a Curtiss C-46 passenger aircraft crashed shortly after take-off near Toledo, Ohio.[1] The aircraft, a veteran of World War II, was carrying the Cal Poly Mustangs team of college football to a game against Bowling Green State University.[1][2] Of the 48 on board, 22 were killed, including both pilots, 16 players, a student manager, and a Cal Poly football booster.[3][4][5]

California Polytechnic State University football team plane crash
A C-46 similar to the accident aircraft
DateOctober 29, 1960
SummaryLoss of control on take-off
SiteToledo Express Airport,
Ohio, United States
41°35′19″N 83°48′42″W / 41.5885°N 83.8118°W / 41.5885; -83.8118
Aircraft typeCurtiss C-46 Commando
OperatorArctic Pacific



The Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) investigated the accident and concluded that the Curtiss C-46 Commando aircraft had been overloaded by 2,000 lb (910 kg) above its maximum certificated gross takeoff weight of 47,100 lb (21,360 kg) and that there was a partial power loss in the left engine prior to the crash.[5]

Prior to takeoff the weather at the airport steadily deteriorated: at 7 p.m. the visibility was 3/4-mile (1.2 km); down to 1/16-mile (100 m) at 8:37 p.m.; and zero at the time of the accident, 22:02 EST.[1][2] The CAB accident report states that stemming from the crash, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) published a notice in the Airman's Guide that prohibited takeoff for commercial aircraft when the visibility is below 1/4 mile (400 m), or the runway visual range is below 2,000 ft (600 m).[2]

In its final report, the CAB Probable Cause statement was "The accident was due to loss of control during a premature lift-off. Contributing factors were the overweight aircraft, weather conditions, and partial loss of power in the left engine."[5]



The pilot who made the decision to take off was flying on a certificate that had been revoked, but he was allowed to fly pending an appeal.[6] Following the crash, the Arctic-Pacific Company lost its certificate to charter airplanes.[4][6]

Among the survivors was quarterback Ted Tollner,[3] later the head coach at USC and San Diego State. At the time of the crash, Bowling Green State had been the easternmost opposing school ever to play football against Cal Poly. The university canceled the final three games of the 1960 season.[7]

A plaque for the 1960 Cal Poly football team is shown at its display near the southwest corner of Mustang Memorial Field in San Luis Obispo, California, in April 2023.

Hall of Fame coach John Madden, a Cal Poly alumnus who played for the Mustangs during the 1957 and 1958 seasons, had a fear of flying, which was commonly attributed to the crash, although he said it instead stemmed from claustrophobia. Madden was coaching at the nearby Allan Hancock Junior College at the time of the crash and knew many passengers aboard the aircraft.[4]

As a result of the crash, Cal Poly did not play any road games outside California until 1969, a 14–0 loss at Montana in Missoula.[8] Cal Poly did not play another game east of the Rocky Mountains until 1978, a 17–0 loss to Winston-Salem State in North Carolina in the NCAA Division II playoffs.[9] They did not play another regular season game east of the Rockies until 1989, a 45–20 loss to Angelo State in Texas.[10]

Two weeks afterward, Life magazine published an article, "Campus Overwhelmed by Team's Tragic Flight".[11]

In April 2001, the tragedy was examined in an ESPN Outside the Lines monthly special focusing on the evolution and frequency of travel in collegiate and pro sports.[12] The segment, entitled "Have Game, Will Travel," included an interview with Tollner conducted by Lisa Salters.[12]

Mercy Bowl


In the following season on Thanksgiving Day 1961, Los Angeles County Supervisor Warren Dorn and Bob Hope sponsored a "Mercy Bowl" in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum between Fresno State and Bowling Green State to raise a memorial fund for the survivors and bereaved families.[13][14] The event raised about $200,000 from a crowd of 33,000 on November 23.[4] Fresno State defeated Bowling Green in the game, 36–6.[15]

In 2008 interviews with ESPN, several former Cal Poly players expressed interest in seeing the Mercy Bowl return for various contemporary charitable causes.[16] Similar sentiments were expressed in a 2012 ESPN story about the game potentially returning in relation to other modern bowl games.[17]

Campus memorials at Cal Poly

The 1960 Cal Poly Football Team memorial at Alex G. Spanos Stadium is shown illuminated at night in July 2016.

There are memorial plaques for the crash on the Cal Poly campus at Mott Athletics Center and the Mustang horse statue. A permanent memorial plaza opened with the new Alex G. Spanos Stadium. The memorial has 18 copper pillars, one for each of the Cal Poly-affiliated individuals who died in the crash. Each pillar rises to the height of the person honored and is adorned with a plaque about that individual's life.[18]

On September 29, 2006, the 1960 football team was inducted into the Cal Poly Athletics Hall of Fame.[19] The following night, former players and members of the crash victims' families stood at mid-field of Spanos Stadium during a halftime memorial.[20]

See also



  1. ^ a b c "Airliner with 48 crashes at airport; football team aboard, 20 are killed". Toledo Blade. Ohio. October 30, 1960. p. 1.
  2. ^ a b c CAB Accident Investigation Report, SA-360 File No. 1-0047PDF
  3. ^ a b "22 dead, 26 injured in plane crash". Toledo Blade. Ohio. October 31, 1960. p. 4.
  4. ^ a b c d Walker, Ben (December 25, 2008). "Mercy Bowl helped a school heal". Seattle Times. Associated Press. Archived from the original on May 24, 2011. Retrieved October 7, 2009.
  5. ^ a b c Accident description at the Aviation Safety Network
  6. ^ a b "Rating of airline pilot in crash revoked but order stayed, FAA says". Toledo Blade. (Ohio). Associated Press. November 2, 1960. p. 1.
  7. ^ "Remember the Mustangs".
  8. ^ "Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo Yearly Results 1965–1969". Archived from the original on February 11, 2010.
  9. ^ "Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo Yearly Results 1975–1979". Archived from the original on February 11, 2010.
  10. ^ "Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo Yearly Results 1985–1989". Archived from the original on February 11, 2010.
  11. ^ "Tragic Flight: the 1960 football team plane crash". Kennedy Library, California Polytechnic State University. Retrieved June 8, 2019.
  12. ^ a b "'We're gonna make it. We're gonna make it'". ESPN. Retrieved June 10, 2019.
  13. ^ "Falcon gridders slight favorites". Toledo Blade. (Ohio). Associated Press. November 23, 1961. p. 105.
  14. ^ "Rose Bowl for Fresno? No, but they're tough". Toledo Blade. (Ohio). November 24, 1961. p. 25.
  15. ^ BrianDeLosSantos (October 28, 2010). "Remember the Mustangs: the story of the 1960 football team". Mustang News. Retrieved June 8, 2019.
  16. ^ "Lost in a rush of games, the Mercy Bowl remembered". ESPN. Retrieved June 10, 2019.
  17. ^ "Markazi: L.A.'s last bowl? 1961 Mercy Bowl". ESPN. January 5, 2012. Retrieved June 10, 2019.
  18. ^ "Press release: Cal Poly Honors the 1960 Football Team". Archived from the original on January 6, 2010.
  19. ^ Aird, Tristan (October 1, 2006). "Memorial Plaza Gets Unveiled to the Public". The Tribune (San Luis Obispo, CA). pp. D1.
  20. ^ "Cal Poly Hall of Fame". Archived from the original on July 8, 2011.