(Photo by Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)
The Best of Days and The Worst of Days
By Dorothy Knoell, Daily Herald Sports Writer
Reprinted from the Oct. 12, 1985 Cougar Illustrated Game Program
Nov. 27, 1965. Never has the BYU athletic program achieved so much and lost so much in one day.
It was on November 27, 1965‑just 20 years ago‑ that the Cougars defeated the New Mexico Lobos to win the Western Athletic Conference football championship for the first time. It marked the first time in the school’s 42 years of football that a Cougar team had won a conference grid title.
Yet, on the same day that the Cougars were ending years of frustration on the gridiron, the Cougar athletic program lost 13 of its biggest boosters in a tragic plane crash at the Point of the Mountain. Among the dead were some of BYU’s most enthusiastic alumni and some of the community’s brightest up-and-coming professionals. And 13 of the nicest people you’d ever want to meet.
It was a championship day filled with elation and despair, excitement and shock, cheers and tears.
The Cougar football team was already in Albuquerque, New Mexico, awaiting its chance to win the conference title on the field against the Lobos as that fateful Saturday morning dawned cold and with a threat of snow in Utah.
In Salt Lake City, 13 people boarded an Edde Airline DC-3 chartered airplane that was to stop again in Provo to pick up another group of boosters—including then BYU Earnest L. Wilkinson‑and then wing its way to Albuquerque, where the fans planned on enjoying what they anticipated would be a Cougar victory celebration after a title-clinching win.
On the plane as it took off at about 7 a.m., were foul local physicians, a dentist, a lawyer, two prominent businessmen, three pilots, a daughter of one of the pilots and a stewardess.
“We became concerned as it got past the time the flight was supposed to arrive, and it didn’t,” said Ronald G. Hyde, assistant executive vice president of University Relations at BYU, who was one of the people in the Provo Airport that day waiting to board the flight. “When it didn’t come, we began trying to find out what the problem was.”
Hyde said a call was put through to Edde Airlines in Salt Lake.
“They said the plane had taken off and they didn’t know what the problem might be,” he said. “We later found out that Bill Edde (brother of the pilot, Garth, and co-owner of the airlines) jumped into a small plane to go out and investigate,” What Bill Edde found was the wreckage of the aircraft about 1 ¼ miles northwest of Camp Williams.
The plane, flying too low, never got past the Point of the Mountain. Instead it clipped a hill, tearing off one wing, then bounced across a gully and slammed into another mountain, bursting into flames and killing all the occupants immediately.
The wreckage was scattered around the mountain near Camp Williams, about 100 yards above the target range on the west side of Redwood Road.
“You know, the spot of the crash can be seen from the highway (the I-15 freeway). There are not many times that I make a trip to Salt Lake that I don’t think of it (the crash,” noted BYU sports information director Dave Schulthess. “You can still see the scar on the mountain…”
“The thing is, these were really special people. They were boosters who were ahead of their time. They were among the first people to be in the stands for home games. They were all charter members of the Cougar Club. They were really dedicated to BYU. They were just great people.”
Killed in the crash were Dr. Marion Earl Probert, Dr. Jared Bernard Critchfield, Dr. Roger West Parkinson, Dr. Gordon Kenneth Lewis, Dr. Antoine Adams Dalton, Theodore Roger Gledhill, James Lambert Peterson, Richard Rulon Wilkins, Garth Edde, Dianne Edde, Kenneth Myers, Calvin B. Higgs and Norma Jenkins.
But they were much more than just names.
Marion Probert, for example, was a former BYU football star. The 32-year-old surgeon was one of the first blue-chip football players to sign with the Cougars. Coming out of Inglewood High School in California, he was recruited by such powerhouses as Southern California and UCLA. He received some very “lucrative” offers from a couple of schools, according to his father, Leo, such as an offer to pay for Marion’s medical schooling if he’d attend a certain school. But he chose BYU because of his religious background in the LDS Church. And that started his love affair with the school.
He proved his worth on the field by making the varsity team as a freshman in 1951 (freshmen were eligible at the time) and lettering all four years he was with the Cougars. He was academic All-American twice, honorable mention All-American, three-year All-Skyline Conference and winner of the Ed Stein Award at BYU, which is awarded annually to the outstanding junior student-athlete.
“Marion had an almost perfect A grade point average,” noted Leo, who moved with his wife to Orem when he retired from teaching. “He also had his own dance band, was student body president, was division commander of the Air Force ROTC on campus, and was captain of the football team with (current BYU defensive coordinator) Dick Felt his senior year.”
Marion turned down professional football offers to go to medical school at University of Pennsylvania, where he excelled yet again. He interned at LDS Hospital in Salt Lake, spent a year at Memorial Hospital for Cancer and Allied Diseases in New York, and then returned to be on the staff at Cottonwood LD Hospital and LDS Hospital in Salt Lake.
His professional life, however, was only a small part of Probert. He was also a husband and father of four children and had what those who knew him termed as “a kind heart.
“Recently,” noted Steve Hales in an article which appeared in the Nov. 29, 1965, issue of The Deseret News, “a friend who was suffering financial reverses received a $200 check from Dr. Probert and a short note scrawled on a prescription bland. It said “Pay me back sometime when you get rich.”
“He was just an outstanding person,” said Felt of his old teammate. “He was a leader on and off the field when we played together. He weighed in at just 185 pounds, but to me he was always 220. That’s what it felt like when he hit you.”
Dr. Roger Parkinson was in much the same mold. Parkinson, a native of Spanish Fork, was also a BYU graduate and went on to get a medical degree at George Washington University in 1954. He served as chief of the Obstetrics-Gynecology Department at Ft. Huachuca, Arizona Army Hospital, receiving the Army Commendation Medal for meritorious service as a result of his work.
He was a top researcher in cytology, starting the Intermountain Cytological Laboratory with partner Dr. Homer Ellsworth and Dr. Howard McQuarrie in 1962, becoming president of the laboratory shortly thereafter.
But he, too, had a more personal side. He was “known as BYU’s No. 1 fan” and was president of the Salt Lake Cougar Club.
“He married a member of the BYU homecoming royalty (Jean Romney). His parents were alumni of the University, he was president of the Cougar Club…it was just a devoted BYU family,” said Hyde of Parkinson.
Shortly before his death he co-authored an article on prevention of mental and physical ailments in older women. It appeared in a prestigious medical journal.
“Even though he is dead, his work will help others live longer, better lives,” noted a colleague when informed of the tragedy.
Dr. Critchfield was not much different. He, too, was a BYU alumnus, earning a B.A. degree after coming to BYU from his hometown in Alberta, Edmonton, Canada.
He was awarded a medical degree from University of Utah in 1954 and was a lieutenant in the Royal Canadian infantry during World War II. He was first team physician for Granger High School, pioneering the decision to have a physician in attendance at high school games across the state.
Critchfield was never too busy for his patients. Earlier in the year, a baby suffered a bad electrical shock in a field near his office. The frantic mother ran into Critchfield’s office with the news.
“The doctor dropped everything and rushed the baby in his car to Cottonwood Hospital. He remained with the child for hours until it pulled through.
Dr. Gordon Lewis was another BYU graduate. He was born in Goshen, Utah, but grew up mainly in Provo in a two-block area known as “Kid Alley,” because there were so many children. He received his Doctor of Dental Medicine degree from University of Oregon in 1959.
He was, according to his friends and patients, “the kind of dentist a patient liked to go to.”
Dr. Tony Dalton was born in Parowan, Utah, and had a great desire to be a doctor. He fulfilled that dream despite an accident in which his hand was caught in an ore crusher while he was attending Branch Agricultural College of Southern Utah. A series of operations kept his hopes for a medical career alive. He graduated from the University of Utah Medical School in 1959.
This wasn’t the first time the Dalton family had been involved in a tragedy. Tony’s brother had died in a plane crash 18 months before. And a year earlier Dr. Dalton had taken care of the patients of colleague Dr. Burke Snow, who had died in a plane crash in Nevada.
He was devoted to his family‑at one time, he had his family home redone for his parent’s golden anniversary party.
Richard Wilkins attended BYU after graduating from Springville High. He went on to Stanford University and got his law degree in 1957. His Masters of Law degree followed from New York University.
He spent two years in a prestigious law firm in Washington D.C. (Wilkinson, Cragun and Barker) before deciding to return to his home state of Utah. He joined the law firm of Watkins, Wilkins and Romney in Salt Lake.
“A brilliant light went out when Dick Wilkins died,” noted a friend at the news of his death.
Theo Gledhill had narrowly escaped death earlier in his life. On an LDS mission in Hawaii, he was shaving in his apartment when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. A stray machine gun bullet actually pierced his apartment wall and almost hit him. But his brush with death didn’t deter him from helping care for the injured and dying during that dreadful time.
He was born in Richfield and attended BYU and the University of Utah. He went into business for himself after three years of studying law. He built the Ardee Extermination Company and Utah craft and Novelty Company into successful businesses. He was a past president of the Salt Lake Cougar Club and his brother, Preston, was on the faculty at BYU.
Jim Peterson was another top businessman. He was born in salt Lake and attended BYU, playing football and basketball after finishing his military duty in the Navy. He was, to quote friends, a “born salesman,” In fact, he used to get himself fired from jobs on purpose, just so he could sell himself to the boss and get hired back. During his career, he sold everything from ice makers to diamonds. He owned three eating establishments at the time of his death and was trying to organize small restaurants and consolidate their buying power.
“Some of his grit has rubbed off on his family,” wrote Hales in his article. “Mrs. Peterson and her four daughters have decided to keep the business going. “We’re going to operate our drive-in near 33rd South,” said Mrs. Peterson. “And it’s going to be the best one in town.”
The crew, too, was special. Garth Edde, a bomber pilot in World War II, used to work all day around the airport to pay for half an hours flying time. He and his brothers were vitally interested in sports and Eddie Airlines was the charter airline for most of the Utah college athletic teams.
Garth was more than a pilot and more than a businessman. He really cared about people. When Utah State’s great basketball star, Wayne Estes, was killed in an accident, he flew the entire Utah State basketball team to Montana at no charge so the players could attend the funeral.
“They (the Edde’s) were all excellent pilots,” noted Daily Herald Sports Editor Marion Dunn, who was working for the Salt Lake Tribune at the time of the crash and was sent to the Edde Airlines office at the Salt Lake Airport that day. “The feelings in the office that day were of disbelief. The Edde personnel were not only stunned by the great loss, but by the realization something like that could actually happen to them.”
Garth’s daughter, Diane, decided to go on the trip at the last minute. She had recently been voted homecoming queen at Grantsville High.
Norma Jenkins, the stewardess, had moved to Utah a few months earlier to be where his job was. But it didn’t take her long to get involved in her new home state. She was a teacher for a girl’s group at the First Southern Baptist Church.
Kenneth Myers and Calvin Higgs, the co-pilot and an “extra pilot” along for the ride, were also killed. Myers had received the Navy Cross for valor as a Navy pilot in World War II. It is the second-highest award for bravery the Navy can award.
Higgs was also in the military in World War II, working on some delicate missions because “he was the best airplane mechanic in the Pacific,” according to friends. He served as a policeman in Salt Lake, but his great dream was to be a pilot, so several months before the accident he took pilot training at school in California.
“I remember Calvin saying, ’This isn’t low. You should see us on crop dusting flights when we pick up sagebrush on our wheels.’ “
This tie the plane didn’t make it. Thirteen lives were snuffed out when the plane crashed into the ground near Camp Williams. And it might have been worse.
Dr. Earnest L. Wilkinson, Jr., was scheduled to be on the plane, but he cancelled out at the last minute because of “pressing business matters.” Phil Clark was also supposed to go along according to Leo Probert.
“He (Clark) had decided to go at the last minute. But Marion told him no, he wasn’t going to go. Nobody could figure it out at the time, but Marion told Phil, ‘No, you’re not going on that plane with us,’ “ Leo said.
“Actually, Marion almost didn’t go. He was studying for the national Surgical Board exam. He was supposed to come down to our place (in California) for Thanksgiving, but he called a couple of days before and said he had decided he was going to go to the ball game. He was just sure BYU would win and he had waited so long for them to have a good team. He said he’d study on the way down.”
Although the group waiting in the Provo Airport was already worried, when news of the crash came, they were stunned.