It's hard to imagine a world without professional wrestling; it's a major force in entertainment, even if you aren't a fan of it yourself. But the whole gaudy, larger-than-life spectacle almost imploded on October 4, 1975. That's when a terrifying plane crash nearly killed some of wrestling's biggest stars.
When the flight that changed wrestling crashed outside of Wilmington, NC, Tim Woods, Bob Bruggers, Johnny Valentine, and Ric Flair were all on board. Promoter David Crockett was there, too. Each suffered horrific injuries, and for some, their wrestling careers were over. Grim reality threatened to overwhelm the fabricated storylines of professional wrestling – how to explain to fans that these supposedly bitter enemies were traveling together? But thanks to Woods, kayfabe – wrestling's internal continuity – remained unbroken.
How did one man essentially save the sport, despite the 1975 wrestling plane crash? He never gave up the mask that made him an eternal bad guy.
Six Men Boarded The Quick Flight From Charlotte to Wilmington, NC
It was supposed to be a routine, 45-minute flight from Charlotte to Wilmington, NC. Professional wrestling promoter David Crockett and four wrestlers – Tim Woods, Bob Bruggers, Johnny Valentine, and Ric Flair – joined pilot Joseph Michael Farkas on a small commuter plane on October 4, 1975. The wrestlers were scheduled to perform that night in Wilmington.
The Pilot Dumped Fuel To Compensate For The Wrestlers' Weight
Tim Woods (better known as "Mr. Wrestling"), heavyweight champion Johnny Valentine, former football star Bob Bruggers, and newbie Ric Flair crammed into the small plane. However, their combined mass weighed it down, and their weight wasn't distributed evenly.
Joseph Michael Farkas, the pilot, had a hard time getting the overstuffed plane off the ground in Charlotte. To lighten the load, he released some of the plane's fuel.
Ric Flair And Johnny Valentine Changed Seats
Ric Flair was in the seat next to the pilot, but kept complaining. Johnny Valentine told Flair, "You get in the back, I'll sit up here in the front." This ended up being the biggest mistake of his life.
The Pilot Thought They Had Enough Gas To Land Safely
None of the passengers knew that the pilot had released fuel prior to take off. Soon, it became clear there was a serious problem.
Once he was up front, Johnny Valentine noticed their precarious situation. According to his wife, "John got to looking over at the gauge and said 'Gee, we're out of gas'. And the pilot said 'don't worry about that, my wing tanks are full... when they started sputtering and spinning the pilot panicked and started screaming. John reached over and slapped him to try and bring him to. Had the guy not panicked, they could have landed safely."