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Gunnison community remembers bus crash tragedy 50 years later

Eight football players and their coach lost their lives on Sept. 11, 1971 when a bus lost its brakes coming down Monarch Pass.

GUNNISON, Colo. — Fifty years have passed since this community changed forever.

For many, it felt like a lifetime just to be able to talk about it.

On Sept. 11, 1971, a bus transporting the Gunnison High School junior varsity football team lost its brakes coming down Monarch Pass.

The bus flipped multiple times before landing upside down. The aftermath resulted in nine deaths -- eight players and their coach -- and a tragedy that shook the community.

"Sometimes I wake up at night and still think about the bus," said JoAnne Stone, the mother of one of the survivors who was following the bus when the crash happened. "One (person) was hanging in a tree. One was sitting beside the bus ... It was an overwhelming thing."

The bus crash received national media attention as the small town of Gunnison worked to heal. It was a focal part of history they never wanted a part of.

"I remember what it looked like. That day and that scene," said crash survivor Pat MacIntosh. "I'm not going to ever forget that."

All nine victims are buried together in the town cemetery.

A beautiful headstone features all eight players: Tim Dutton, Pat Graham, Mike Pasqua, Brad Hall, Billy Miles, Ted Maw, Mark Broadwater and Kent Cooper -- as well as coach L.D. Floyd.

"Perhaps God needed a football team in heaven" is engraved on the stone and in scrapbooks throughout the town.

The town is embracing for the 50-year mark of the accident, which will be here this weekend.

On Saturday, the date of the crash (Sept. 11), the current Cowboys football team will be hosting Grand Valley at their home stadium.

"We have to remind these kids that these people died,"  head coach Paul Vickers said. 

"And yes -- they are forever Cowboys."

Credit: Quentin Sickafoose/KUSA
Credit: Quentin Sickafoose/KUSA

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